Title: Emergence – Chapters 29-32
Author: Jilly James
Betas: Elsa Kallan and Naelany
Emergence Main Page
– – – –
It was after 2200 before they arrived back at the center. Dinner had been pleasant, if a little stilted. Tony had been a little concerned about his mate, who felt a little flat all evening.
It was clear Jethro had been poised to end the evening if anything else happened, but both Paulo and Jeffery were too refined to bring up anything weighty in public. The E-boys had been at a nearby table, which felt more than a little weird to Tony. He hoped he wouldn’t have to get used to people lurking at nearby tables for his own good.
They were informed that the four Council members were waiting in the small conference room. The E-boys peeled off to go wherever they went after guard duty. Tony was pretty sure Eric and Embry were an E-couple.
In the conference room, Blair and Richard were huddled together reviewing something on a laptop, while Jim and Jeremy were doing something on paper. What was it about Alphas and computers?
Everyone turned their attention to Jethro and Tony as soon as they entered.
“How’d it go?” Blair asked immediately.
Tony gave a so-so gesture, and Jethro snorted. “It was okay. Uncle Jeffery had called in the head of the DiNozzo family because of trusts both families had set up. It was kind of dizzying.”
Richard nodded. “That’s not uncommon. Especially with the wealthy older families. Having dragons in the family can be considered something of a status symbol. Usually the trust has a fixed amount or percentage paid to each dragon who emerges.”
Tony shook his head. “There were three trusts, all have slightly different terms, but they’re all coming to me in totality.”
Several looks were exchanged before Richard asked, “If it’s not too rude, would you mind if I ask the terms?”
“No. In fact, feel free to ask any questions. I really need advice on how to handle this. There was also some scroll left for me by some dragon ancestor, it’s been passed around for a few thousand years. I figure it’s from Precious, but I don’t know for sure.”
“Whoa,” Blair gasped. “That’s amazing. Is it to you by name?”
“No. It and one of the Paddington trusts were for the white Omega. The DiNozzo trust is for the first Omega to emerge in the family, and the second Paddington trust is for any Omegas in the family, but the control and disbursement of the trust goes to the first Omega to emerge.”
Jeremy murmured, “It’s unusual to specify Omegas only, but not unheard of. More frequently we see trusts specified for Alphas only. Of course, there are more of them, so it does rather make sense.”
Blair was still looking dazed. “I’m still stuck on that scroll, man. When are you going to be able to get it?”
“We have an appointment for that and the first round of paperwork on Friday morning, provided I can get a lawyer by then. Or solicitor… whatever you guys call ‘em here.”
Richard started to say something, but Blair waved him off. “Richard’s about to tell you that they have a list of solicitors for you and we can make tons of calls tomorrow to pick one. But the scroll… you know something that old can’t just be rolled open and read. It has to be specially handled in a clean, dry environment. I’d actually recommend you go to a facility specially equipped to handle antique documents. Oh my God, I wonder what it’s written on?”
Smiling, Jim laid a hand on Blair’s arm. “Settle down, Darwin.”
“I can’t, Jim. This is incredible!”
Tony held up a hand. “How ‘bout this… tomorrow we figure out a place that can handle it physically, and you come with us on Friday?”
Blair actually seemed to be vibrating. “I had a meeting Friday morning, but it is so getting rescheduled.”
Laughing a bit a Blair’s good humor, Tony nodded. “I know we’re not going to really make any decisions tonight, but I did want to get some input on how to handle these trusts. Jeffery had some suggestions that seemed reasonable, but I’d like to hear dragon perspective on this.”
Jeremy drummed his fingers on the table, looking thoughtful. “Depending upon the size of the trust, we usually recommend the beneficiary keep the principal invested and use the interest or dividends for personal use. But it’s ultimately up to you.”
Tony didn’t find that particularly helpful, but then Jethro gave Tony a nudge. “You need to tell them the amount, Tony.”
“Oh! I didn’t mean to skip that bit. Got distracted by the scroll. It’s over three-quarters of a billion dollars.”
Nodding, Jeremy replied, “That’s not an uncommon–” he broke off when Richard held up a hand.
“Did you say ‘million’ or ‘billion’?” Richard asked.
“Billion,” Tony enunciated clearly.
Jeremy made an odd choking noise, then managed, “Well that’s not at all ordinary. Good lord!”
Blair blinked at him a few times. “Man, that is a serious chunk of change. What are you going to do?”
“I have no idea! Jeffery suggested I take the two generic trusts and create a new trust. That would be about 400 million. Then keep the white Omega trust,” at that Tony rolled his eyes, “for my own use. The other trust would somehow be used to benefit the community in general.”
Richard and Jeremy exchanged a look before Richard replied, “That’s an incredibly generous thought, Tony, but I’d caution you not to make any hasty decisions.”
Tony shrugged. “I don’t want keep everyone here talking about it, since it’s getting so late, but if everyone could think on it, and maybe we could talk again tomorrow night?”
Everyone agreed, then Richard brought up another aspect of the day. “Since your comments to the media, we’ve been besieged with interview requests.”
Frowning, Tony replied, “I stuck to information we felt was safe to be released to the press.”
“You misunderstand, I’m not criticizing at all. I’d like you to be aware that Omegas are a very romanticized figure, and coupled with the fact that you are attractive, and were quite charming, the media is a bit in love with you at the moment. Being the nephew of Lord Devon makes you especially endearing to the British press. Also, I wanted to warn you that your comments to our local media have been picked up internationally.”
Tony face-palmed and groaned. “Oh fuck me.” He suddenly picked up on amusement coming from his mate, which was a good change from the odd flatness he’d been getting from Jethro all night. He shot a quick glare at his smirking Alpha, then looked back to Richard. “Is there something I need to do?”
“We should consider if you want to give a proper interview at some point,” Richard prompted.
“Ugh.” Now he understood why his mate was so recalcitrant with the press. “I’ll have to think about that some other time. I’m totally done in for today.”
Richard nodded, then they discussed a couple minor issues not related to Tony before everyone split up for the night. As they headed upstairs, Blair was clearly guiding them toward Jim and Blair’s room. Once they were inside, he just dropped to the floor, assumed a meditation pose and looked at them all expectantly. Guess they were having another little chat on the spirit plane.
Jim looked like he’d rather do anything else, but sighed and folded his long form into position. Tony and Jethro followed quickly. Practically as soon as he closed his eyes, he felt the shift to the spirit plane.
He looked questioningly at Blair, who looked a bit sheepish. “I think I was making this harder than it had to be. It’s like I expected it to be hard, so I made it hard in a way. Richard and I had a long talk about it today, and he felt I was putting up some kind of resistance.”
When it looked like Blair was going to go into more explanation, Jim jumped in. “Why are we here, Chief?”
Blair gave him an incredulous look. “Seriously, man?” He huffed a little, then turned his attention to Tony and Jethro. “I talked to Daniel earlier today… we’re set to meet in Colorado next Thursday, so we’ll need to be there by Wednesday night. We can sync up the travel arrangements later.”
Tony cocked his head to the side. “What did you tell him?”
“Just that I felt some strange need to meet all the Wyverns that Tony had midwifed into the world, and that Tony and Jethro were coming along to see how everyone was doing.”
Tony wanted to protest the use of the term ‘midwife’ but he was really too tired to fight about it. “Anyone on this end think it odd?”
Blair shook his head. “I wanted to make sure nothing appeared suspicious, so I made the call where Richard and Jeremy could easily overhear. Richard asked if everything was okay, and I said I felt an instinctive drive to do this. He just nodded and let it go. North America is our territory, so he’s probably writing it off as a territorial imperative that we check on the Wyverns in our own Wing.”
Nodding, Tony cast an assessing gaze at both Jim and Blair. “You two doing okay with this?”
Blair bounced a bit and smiled, but Jim snorted and replied, “Hell no. It’s too weird for me. I’m letting Darwin here take the lead on this. I’m doing my best not think about it between now and next week.”
Tony could practically feel the agreement from his own mate. Tony was still a little weirded out by it, but seemed like the Wyverns were generally coping with it better than the Alphas. Of course, the Wyverns were the actual aliens’ descendants, so maybe they were biologically inclined to be mellow about the situation.
“Is there anything else we need to discuss tonight, Blair?” Jethro asked. “We can resume the conversation tomorrow if necessary.”
“Everything can wait. I think at least Tony and I will want to make a trip here to talk to Precious after we see that scroll on Friday.”
Jethro nodded. “Let’s go back then.”
Tony cast a quizzical glance at his mate. Jethro seemed impatient and his whole emotional tone was off. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he knew this wasn’t the time or place to ask.
Within a few seconds, they were back on the tangible plane and quickly excused themselves to head for their own room. Tony wanted to ask his mate what was going on, but Jethro was guiding him through getting ready for bed with nearly military efficiency. Tony decided to go along with it for the moment.
Fairly quickly they were settled into bed, Jethro spooned up behind him. Tony wanted to know what was up with his mate. Now. “What’s wrong, Jethro?”
“Everything is fine, Tony. Get some rest.”
Tony wasn’t having any of that. He flipped over, lying on his side, facing the most important person in his life. “Is there a reason you don’t want to talk to me?”
Some of the emotional barrier cracked and Jethro looked and felt sad. “I think you’ve had enough thrown at you today.”
Frowning, Tony emphatically replied, “Nothing is more important than you. Besides, I’m not going to be able to let it go. Our bond is nearly vibrating, and I’m getting worried.” He gently stroked the side of his mate’s face, fingers trailing over the Alpha mark.
Glancing away, Jethro was silent for several beats, then reluctantly started talking. “You were with your mother when she died. I didn’t know that.”
“Ah.” Tony wanted to curl up into an emotional ball and not talk about this. Like ever. “It’s not something I really tell people. For several reasons.”
Jethro met his eyes again and Tony was floored by the sadness in them. “You don’t have to talk about it now, Tony. I’m not trying to pressure you.”
Tony wanted to take the out, but maybe it was better to let this memory see light for once. “I’m not hiding from you. Just ask whatever it is you want to know.”
“I just wish I’d known. There are times…” he trailed off. “There were things I’d have done differently.”
Tony considered that for several seconds. He assumed Jethro meant in the course of their work. He remembered a particular incident where he’d had to process a scene where a Navy wife had died in a car accident, her two children in the back seat both also dead. That had been painful for him, but as he always did, he had pushed it down. And the horror of Jethro’s near death in the river with Maddie was always ruthlessly buried under a mountain of denial with a heap of avoidance on top.
He carefully considered how to reply, then decided to just share it with his mate. “It was a New Year’s party when I was eight. It was one of those times when we pretended to be a real family. I was pretty shy when I was a kid – which may seem totally unbelievable – so I was always uncomfortable at big events like that. I felt very conspicuous when my parents were showing me off like a prized pony.”
Jethro’s gaze never wavered and Tony tried not to pay attention to his mate’s emotions. He was having a hard enough time with his own.
After a moment, he continued with recounting of that night. “The housekeeper took me up to bed before midnight. I’m not sure how late the party went, but my mom woke me up around four. She was upset, crying, really drunk, still wearing her party clothes. I’ll never forget what she was wearing that night. It was this slinky red designer gown.”
Tony felt himself go completely numb as he continued relating the memory. “She kept saying, ‘We have to go now, Tonio, I can’t take it anymore.’ Mom was too drunk to even get us in our coats, and it was so cold out. I was in the front, and had on my seatbelt… the housekeeper was always a real stickler about me wearing it. Mom didn’t wear hers, she almost never did.
“She hit some black ice on a short bridge barely five miles from the house. She was going too fast and was too drunk to keep control of the car, and we went through the guardrail and into a fairly shallow river. It wasn’t deep enough for us to drown, maybe two to three feet, but without her seatbelt, the impact with the steering wheel killed her almost immediately.”
He stopped for a moment, the memories of that night racing through his head. “I- I didn’t know she was dead at first, I didn’t even really see the blood… it just blended into her red dress. I just knew she was quiet and wasn’t responding to me.”
Jethro was wiping his thumbs over Tony’s cheeks, and he realized that he had tears on his face, though he had no awareness of crying because he didn’t really feel anything. “Were you hurt?”
“Yes. Broken collarbone and dislocated shoulder. Some minor internal bleeding from the seatbelt. I kept calling out for her to help me…” he trailed off, leaving it unsaid that she never answered. “Even though the river was shallow, the car had quite a bit of water in it, and I was wet. By the time someone pulled me from the car, I was hypothermic and in shock.”
Tony took a couple breaths, letting the tightness in his chest ease a bit. “When we were on that aircraft carrier on New Year’s, and you saved my life by shifting in front of me; afterward, when I had time to really think about things, all I could think was the irony of nearly dying on the same day as my mother.”
He shook head, chasing away the thought. “Anyway, I found out much later that my father used his money and connections to cover up that she had been drinking and that I had even been in the car. I never knew the name of the man who saved my life. I just remember he had a black jacket and a green flannel shirt. Sometimes I dream about trying to climb into that shirt to get warm. I hate being cold.” He shivered a little just thinking about it.
“My father shipped me off to RIMA while I still had my arm in a sling. He wouldn’t let me attend her funeral because he couldn’t explain my injuries considering he was telling everyone that I wasn’t even there.”
“Jesus,” Jethro whispered, pulling him closer. Tony was grateful to no longer have to see the sadness in his mate’s eyes. He buried his face in Jethro’s neck. “I could kill your father.”
Tony dug his fingers into Jethro’s back. “I don’t want him in my life.”
Jethro stroked the back of his head. “There’s something you’re not saying.”
Wrestling with his rising feelings, Tony finally managed to say, “I feel guilty.”
The hand in his hair stilled. “What in the world for?”
“I don’t know… it’s confusing. I feel like the situation has devolved into tit-for-tat. He ignored me, now I’m gonna ignore him. He cares about money, now I’m going to deny him what he wants. It feels…” he trailed off, not sure how to articulate it. “Shouldn’t I be trying to be the better man? I don’t want to be like him.”
“Fuck…” Jethro pulled Tony away a little, so their eyes met. “You don’t have to try to be the better man, Tony. That’s just a fact. And wanting to keep that ass out of your life does not mean you’re sinking to his level. Just get that shit out of your head.” He gave Tony a little shake. “I’ve known you for a long time, and despite an impressive set of defenses, you are a compassionate man with a strong moral center. I’ve never met your father, but I know you’re nothing like him.”
Tony suddenly didn’t want to talk about his father. “Jethro… Can we go home? I know we have all this stuff through Friday, and then we need to go to Colorado next week. But in between, can we go home? I need some time alone with you without the Council stuff pulling us eight different directions. Part of me says we should just stay here, then go back with Jim and Blair, but–”
Jethro laid a finger over Tony’s lips. “Shh. We’ll go home. There’s nothing happening that cannot wait. Either that or someone else can just deal with it.” With that, Jethro rolled onto his back, pulling Tony to lie with his head resting on his mate’s shoulder.
He really just wanted to go to sleep. But he wasn’t sure if Jethro had more questions, so he waited, just resting in his mate’s arms, too worn out to offer anything of his own volition.
Gibbs held Tony, gently stroking the soft hair, waiting for his mate to give into sleep. Eventually he felt the remaining tension drain out of the body in his arms. He waited a little longer, making sure Tony was fully asleep before loosening the stranglehold he had on his emotions. He still maintained tight control, but no longer suppressed everything so that Tony wouldn’t know what he was feeling.
Every time Tony’s childhood came up, Gibbs was more and more horrified by it. Tony truly was a master at covering his real self if he’d kept that under wraps for so long. He wished he had known. So many times he’d given Tony tasks that were innocuous on the surface, but had to have been exceedingly difficult to carry out with any degree of professionalism considering his past. But any time there’d been a crack in Tony’s armor, he’d successfully diverted everyone’s attention to something else.
He nearly winced thinking of the incident with Maddie and himself in the river. That had to have struck a horribly painful chord for Tony, but he’d pressed on, never revealing the memories it must have evoked.
Gibbs’ Alpha instincts were in overdrive with the need to protect his mate. There was too much coming at Tony. He’d been trying to let things happen as they needed to, but he was starting to think he needed to get in between Tony and the rest of the world for a little while. Tony clearly wasn’t ever going to tell anyone no. He wondered how much he’d personally had to do with that over the years… had he ingrained that into Tony with his style at work? Or was this Tony’s dragon instincts telling him to put the Wing first? Either way, he was going to make sure his mate got what he needed.
He wanted the time to themselves as much as he imagined Tony did. They needed time together without pressure at every turn. He wanted time to learn about Tony, because there was clearly a lot more than he’d ever seen at work.
He’d already encountered things he’d never have guessed. Tony was exceedingly fastidious, though he mostly managed to keep it below people’s radar. Still, he washed his hands a ridiculous number of times a day, always made the bed in the morning, even before Gibbs got around to it, and was incredibly neurotic about how his clothes were handled. Mostly Gibbs found it endearing. It also made them fairly compatible on a neatness front… years in the Marines did not a messy person make.
Gibbs wanted more of that. More getting to know each other, less people, and much more time in bed. He fell asleep making a mental list of the things he needed to take care of tomorrow to ensure things went off smoothly for the weekend.
He woke early while the sun was still rising. Their room faced east, so even the weak morning light was enough to rouse him. Tony had flipped onto his stomach, still pressed against Gibbs’ side. Adjusting his position so he could wrap an arm around Tony’s waist, Gibbs’ hand unerringly travelling to the band of scales right above his hips. Absently, he traced the warm scales with the tips of his fingers, immersing himself in their bond.
It was about half an hour before Tony began to wake. Gibbs kept his attention on their bond, noticing that despite being half asleep, Tony still felt a little raw. He nuzzled against the scales at the back of the neck where black and white merged. “Morning.”
Tony mumbled what could have been ‘good morning’ then pressed a little closer. When Gibbs began to pull away, Tony made a noise of complaint. “Don’t,” he grumbled, and Gibbs had no problem giving into his mate.
They stayed close together in silence for a long time. Tony eventually turned over, sleepily nuzzling against Gibbs throat. Their touches were lazy and without intent to lead anywhere. The stress of the last few days had been hell on their sex life, but, in a way, good for their intimacy. The need to connect was stronger than the desire to mate.
Eventually, they made it to the shower where the touching became more purposeful. He wound up with his mate pressed up against the wall, hot water pouring over them, Tony’s legs wrapped strongly around Gibbs’ waist as Gibbs pressed slowly inside the tight passage.
Tony’s head was thrown back, giving Gibbs easy access to sensitive throat scales. Application of lips, teeth and tongue had his mate crying out, tightening around his cock, nearly making him lose control. He kept a tight rein on himself, keeping the pace slow, reveling in the pleas and whimpers.
He kept Tony right on the edge until his mate broke and started swearing at him, calling him a bastard and issuing colorful threats. He smiled against the black throat scales, then bit down, just as he gave a hard thrust into the perfectly tight ass. Tony stopped breathing and froze for a moment before he surrendered to orgasm.
Gibbs immediately followed his mate over the edge, keeping Tony pressed against the tiled wall as they rode out the waves of pleasure, their bond humming between them. Eventually he lowered Tony to stand on unsteady legs.
Tony looked at him from half-lidded green eyes. “I think I can handle fifty or sixty years of mornings like that.”
Cocking his head to the side, he asked, “What about the next hundred?”
Looking perplexed, Tony replied, “Hundred?”
Gibbs found himself laughing. “You really didn’t pay any attention to anything dragon related, did you?”
Tony shook his head. “What’d I miss?”
“Dragons live longer than humans by about fifty percent. But mated pairs tend to live even longer. You’re stuck with me for about 150 years, Tony.”
It took a moment for Tony to have any reaction other than blinking in shock. Eventually a slow grin spread across his face and he wrapped his arms around Gibbs’ shoulders. “Well, isn’t that like the best thing ever.” He nuzzled behind Gibbs’ ear, teasing his scales.
Gibbs shivered in reaction. “Careful, Tony, don’t start something you aren’t ready to finish.”
Tony huffed out a laugh, then licked along Gibbs’ scales, all the way to the shoulder before whispering, “Bring it on, old man.”
He spun his mate around, pressing him face-first against the wall, leaning in to whisper in Tony’s ear. “Let’s see who gets worn out first.”
Forty minutes later they were both pruny, and he was leading a wobbly Tony into the room to get dressed. Gibbs was feeling rather pleased with himself.
“I can feel that, you know,” Tony commented idly as he plopped on the edge of the bed.
“What’s that you feel exactly?”
“The smugness is pouring off you. I wouldn’t even need empathy to detect it.” His mate shot him a half-hearted glare.
Gibbs lifted one shoulder, unable to stop his lips from quirking up. He pressed Tony back onto the bed, blanketing the long, strong body with his own. Tony clutched at his back. “You think I have no reason to be smug?” he whispered into Tony’s neck, breath ghosting over throat scales.
“Insufferable bastard,” Tony managed on a gasp as Gibbs tongue played with deep black scales.
“Round three, then?”
In reply, Tony simply wrapped a leg around Gibbs’ waist and tipped his head back.
They finally made it downstairs as it was nearing ten. After a quick breakfast, Tony went in search of Richard to get the lawyer information and start making phone calls. It would be at least three hours before Gibbs could call the people he needed in DC, so he headed to the center’s gym down in the sub-basement.
Facilities that had equipment crafted to deal with a dragon’s enhanced strength were rare, so he was going to take advantage. He also had a fair amount of hostility he needed to burn off. One morning of great sex was not going to erase the anger he felt toward DiNozzo Senior.
He found Jim already there, beating the hell out of a reinforced heavy bag. He contemplated his fellow Alpha for a few moments. Something was clearly on Jim’s mind, and he had a suspicion it had something to do with aliens.
Gibbs got Jim’s attention and cocked his head toward the boxing ring, lifting a brow in inquiry. Jim nodded, then gave the bag one last bruising punch.
They sparred for over half an hour. The former Army Ranger was the most challenge Gibbs had faced in the ring in a long time. When they finally called it quits, they were both sweaty and a little bloody. Gibbs had a cut over his eye, while Jim had a bloody cheekbone. They’d have to head outside and shift to heal before their mates saw them.
Settling on a bench, they both started unwrapping their hands. “Something on your mind, Gibbs?”
Since they were alone, Gibbs decided to just be blunt. “I can’t seem to protect him.”
Jim gave him a thoughtful look. “We can’t protect anyone from the past.”
Gibbs snorted. “Between the past and the present, he’s getting it from all sides, and I’m not really doing a damn thing.” He gave Jim a look of determination. “He asked me to take him home this weekend. He’s had enough. I’m going to make that happen.”
Jim nodded. “I locked Blair away for over two weeks after we mated.” He thought about it for a few seconds. “I’ve always been hyper-vigilant with his safety, like someone was going to take him away. Though I still worry about safety, I feel more settled now that we’ve bonded.
“I think if you hadn’t bonded so early in your relationship, the last ten days couldn’t have even happened. Your dragon would have been too insistent on keeping him away from anyone who could possibly be a threat until you felt secure in your mating. The bond has made any of this possible, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both of your instincts were still calling out for time alone.”
He thought on that for a few seconds. Since they had bonded immediately after mating, he didn’t have a real frame of reference to compare the two. He did worry about safety, but his dragon knew Tony belonged to him. “Security is a nightmare.” He glanced speculatively at Jim. “How do you handle it?”
Jim snorted a little. “I have Blair surrounded by dragons. In part it makes sense because it’s vital to our work. But that’s not why I bought the building we live in. I own it so I could get all the humans out and move in dragons I trust. That way there’s a buffer between Blair and the rest of the world.”
Gibbs contemplated that for a few seconds. Considering that he lived in a house, it was going to be nigh on to impossible to keep Tony unaware of any security measures. He’d just have to talk it out with his mate.
By mutual agreement, Gibbs and Jim headed outside to shift to let their injuries heal before they came in contact with their mates.
He was back up in their room, and freshly re-showered, when he felt a spike of something from his mate. It was an intense mix of anger and embarrassment and hurt and something like outrage. He quickly pulled on a shirt, and headed downstairs, following the bond.
Tony was in a conference room with Jeremy, Richard and Blair, head buried in his hands. Gibbs took the chair beside Tony, wrapping an arm around him. “What’s going on?”
When Tony didn’t respond, he looked to Blair, who softly replied, “His father gave an interview last night, which was middle of the night for us. It aired on CNN and has been picked up here. It was basically a fluff piece, but it’s…” Blair trailed off, as if not sure how to characterize it.
Tony lifted his head and met Gibbs’ eyes. “He’s basically spouting an alternate reality where we’re a tight family and he’s so proud of me.”
Gibbs was going to kill Senior, but first he had to do something about Tony’s state of mind. He got up, pulling Tony to his feet. “Come on.”
Tony resisted a little. “I’m meeting with one of the lawyers in an hour.”
“Then we’ve got an hour. Now let’s go.” Gibbs led his mate outside. “Shift.”
“What?” Tony looked completely confused.
“You’re not spending enough time in your dragon form. Besides, I think you’re talked out. We have an hour, so shift.”
Tony gave him some odd looks, but eventually moved out away from the house and shifted.
His mate really was beautiful. Both the human and the dragon. He recognized that he’d gotten lucky as hell when Tony chose him.
Gibbs was aware that there were about a dozen people around, and all were watching Tony. As long as they kept their distance, he didn’t care. Tony was too vibrant, in practically every way, to go unnoticed, so he’d get used to the looking. But he’d be damned if he let people do anything more than that.
Tony was plopped on his stomach, just watching his mate, and air of impatience coming through the bond.
He waited patiently, and eventually the dragon nature won out and Tony started to roam the grounds, sniffing things, shying away from the other dragons. That was Gibbs’ cue to shift himself. He flew over to Tony and nudged him, then took to the air again.
Tony stared up at him quizzically, so Gibbs came down, nudged him firmly then took off again. Tony seemed to get it this time, but looked like he didn’t know what to do.
Gibbs landed, then shifted back to human form. “It’s all instinct. Don’t think about it. Just do it.” He shifted back, then took flight again, hovering about fifty feet off the ground, wings flapping lazily, waiting for his mate.
Tony unfurled his wings, which were absurdly shiny, almost like mother of pearl. Gibbs resolved not to tell his mate about the nature of his wings.
It took a few false starts before his mate was in the air. Gibbs led him away from the center, over the trees, and it didn’t take long before Tony passed him. Jim had commented once that Omegas were obscenely good flyers, and Tony was taking to it like a fish to water. Gibbs was getting an almost euphoric happiness from his mate, so he congratulated himself on making the right move.
Tony’s smaller, more sinuous body allowed him to zip through some of the larger gaps in the trees, something Gibbs wouldn’t even think of attempting, and gave him no small amount of anxiety as he watched his mate dive and thread through the winter-barren tree line.
He didn’t think Tony would be able to fly for long as he was unaccustomed to using his wings, but Tony had a way of handling that. After about half an hour, he rose high in the sky and came up behind and above Gibbs. His Drake’s excellent positional sense allowed him to detect the dragon above him. He looked back briefly just as Tony pulled his wings in and glided onto Gibbs’ back.
Gibbs was startled and dropped a little, getting used to the added weight. Tony just managed to not obstruct his wings. He shot a short glare over his shoulder and he could swear his mate was smirking. He wasn’t really annoyed, too happy to feel real positive emotions coming off his Wyvern.
After another twenty minutes or so, Gibbs’ wings were feeling the strain of flying with the added weight, so he headed back to the center. They weren’t very far, as they’d been more orbiting than flying in one direction.
There were a lot more people congregated outside, including Jim and Blair when they landed.
Tony hopped off and shifted back, grinning widely. “That was awesome!”
Gibbs shifted, then caught his mate around the waist, giving him a quick kiss. “If you let your wings rest for a few hours, we can go out again later.”
Bouncing a little with enthusiasm, Tony gave him a more thorough kiss, paying no attention to their audience.
They returned to the house, where Blair was smiling at them. “I am so taking Jim out for a spin around the center later. It’s easy to forget how much fun flying is. By the way, Tony, your lawyer arrived. I left him in the small conference room chatting with Richard.”
Tony turned to Gibbs, still smiling. “You want to come?”
Gibbs shook his head. “Nah, you’ve got it covered. I’ll head up to our room and make a couple calls.”
As soon as Tony was inside, Blair turned to him with a blinding smile. “That was inspired, Jethro. He feels much better. That interview with his father really set him into an emotional tailspin.”
Gibbs nodded. “I don’t suppose you recorded it? I’d like to watch it while he’s occupied. Doesn’t have to be right now.”
“Sure. I’ll put it on a thumb drive.” Then Blair gave him a knowing look. “Since I sincerely doubt you brought a computer, or even know what a thumb drive is, I can either load it up on Tony’s laptop or you can come watch it on mine.”
He winced a little, not liking the idea of putting that on Tony’s computer. “Yours, I think. When?”
“I’ve got time now, but meetings out the wazoo starting in about an hour. Let’s grab lunch and the video and head up to our room. Jim will come too because he hasn’t seen it and he likes to hover.”
Blair just ignored his mate.
Gibbs was agreeable but wanted to make a couple calls first. “Let me make some quick calls. Meet you at yours in ten?”
“Sure.” Blair just grabbed his mate’s arm and escorted them inside. “We’ll bring enough lunch for you.”
Up in his room, Gibbs placed a quick call to his Beta to advise him they were coming home this weekend, probably arriving on Saturday, and to sort out some security issues for the trip. He also needed an update on requests he’d made prior to leaving DC. Rick needed to run down some additional logistics and make some calls, then he’d give a call back.
Next he called Abby to let her know they’d be home for a few days, but to please not tell anyone but Ducky. Her squeal of excitement nearly deafened him. He also got the status on some things she was working on for him. They were progressing, but he asked if she could make some more headway before they arrived. Hopefully it would be a nice surprise for Tony. It took concerted effort to get off the phone with her quickly so he could get to Jim and Blair’s room close to on time.
He insisted on watching the interview before he ate. Objectively, he could see that Tony’s father was attractive and charming, but he struck Gibbs as completely smarmy. The aired portion of the interview was only a few minutes, but the man did put on a front like they were happy father and son.
At least DiNozzo Senior was honest about his connection with the Paddingtons… the interviewer had specifically asked about relations with Lord Devon, and Senior had plainly stated he hadn’t had much contact since his beloved wife had died. Gibbs thought it likely that Jeffery Paddington would have fried DiNozzo if he’d claimed otherwise. Lord Devon was definitely not a fan of the elder DiNozzo.
After the interview, there was a brief summary about Tony’s time with NCIS and as a star player for Buckeye’s basketball and football teams. Gibbs was surprised the puff pieces about Tony’s background were still running. He probably should be keeping an eye on what was going on in the media. Historically, he’d depended on Tony for keeping up with that sort of thing, but that didn’t exactly work in this situation. He’d have to ask Abby to let him know if there was something he needed to be aware of. Like DiNozzo Senior giving fucking interviews.
He should probably reach out to his assistant from the Council to handle it, but he almost never contacted her for anything that wasn’t Wing related. Technically this qualified, but it felt too personal.
Once the video was done playing, Blair closed the laptop and handed Gibbs a plate with a hearty sandwich. “Jim tells me you’re headed home this weekend.”
Gibbs nodded. “We need some time alone. Or as alone as we can make it.”
“I wish I could say you’d get some good time alone here at the center, but it’s just not likely. I have a feeling wherever Tony is, things are always going to be busy.”
“You really think that’s going to be any different for you?” Gibbs asked.
Blair looked surprised. “Well, I think I’m pretty settled in my role at home and on the Council.”
Jim replied before Gibbs could tell Blair the reality of the situation. “And how many things have changed and are still changing, Darwin? The Shaman thing and the triad stuff, that’s all new. And more to come, or so it seems. I don’t see us getting any downtime in the future.”
Blair blinked. “Oh. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that. Still, I think Tony’s ability to call out Wyverns is going to keep him busy for a while. We need to come up with a viable plan that doesn’t have him hopping to the tune of every anxious Alpha. But that really wasn’t where I was headed… Jim and I won’t need the plane until next week, we figure you guys can take it, then it can return for us, and we’ll pick you up on the way to Colorado.”
Gibbs hadn’t been expecting that. “We can just fly commercial, Blair.”
“Really, I think considering all the security issues, it might be best if Tony tries to stay away from commercial air travel for a bit or he’ll be mobbed at every airport. Besides, if anyone can afford the fuel for a trans-Atlantic flight, it’s Tony,” Blair ended with a grin.
Gibbs snorted in amusement. “I guess so. I’ll talk to him about it when he finishes with his lawyer.”
Blair chewed his lip a little.
“What?” Gibbs prompted.
“Maybe you could join him if you feel like it? I think he might like your input.”
Surprised, Gibbs’ eyebrows shot up. “Okay. Though I didn’t think I’d have much to offer in the matter of settling three quarters of a billion dollars.”
Blair shrugged. “If you feel like it.”
Gibbs got that Blair was trying not to be pushy, but was clearly trying to tell him something. “Okay. I’ll head down in a few. Incidentally, do you think we should be looking at a plane for Tony? Or just charter private flights when necessary?”
Blair turned to Jim, who put down his sandwich, looking thoughtful. “The plane is my father’s but I have much more cause to use it than he does. I don’t know how long you guys are going to be buried in Council business, but I tend to think you’d be better off buying a plane, then selling it later if you find you don’t need it. You could charter, but security would be harder to maintain. I’d bring it up with Tony before he makes any final decisions about how to allocate the trusts.”
Considering carefully, Gibbs eventually nodded. He wasn’t one for having things that were unnecessary. It was strange to go from not feeling like he even needed cable TV, to needing to get a plane. But if they were going to have to do a lot of travel, and that seemed likely, he didn’t want to spend hours at a time in airports and in line at customs. He’d talk to Tony about it as soon as he was done with the lawyer.
They finished up lunch, chatting about random things, then he headed to the other wing where the meeting rooms and public spaces were located. He knocked on the conference room door, then entered, to find Tony and the lawyer pouring over papers.
Tony’s smile and emotional relief told him Blair was right in sending Gibbs to this meeting. “So, where we at?” he inquired.
His mate gestured to the lawyer, “This is Harold Wyman… considering that we don’t have a lot of time to sort this out, he recommended that we take care of transferring the large trust into my name, and consolidate the two smaller trusts. With the combined trust we could create some generic provisions, then wait for anything more specific. I’d need more time to consult with another lawyer for a second opinion, a financial advisor and the Council attorneys.
“The trust for me would become immediately available. We talked about combining it with the other two trusts – what’s left from my education trust, and the trust from my grandfather – but I think I’d rather keep them the way they are.”
Gibbs held up a hand. “In your considering, factor in getting a plane. I talked about it with Jim and Blair, and I think we’re going to be doing a lot of travel for a while. It’s probably better from a security standpoint if we have our own plane rather than charter. Plus the time saved in airport security and customs.”
Tony looked flummoxed for a few seconds, but in the way that he always did, he quickly put the pieces together and nodded.
The attorney offered, “Would the majority of this travel be for Council purposes?”
Nodding, Tony replied, “Almost all of it. Though I wish we had time on the horizon to plan leisure trips.”
“Then I’d suggest the trust you’re considering using for the Council’s benefit pay for the plane, and perhaps you’d make it available for Council use when you aren’t in need of it. Discuss it with the Council attorneys, and then decide how to fund the fuel.”
Gibbs and Tony both nodded, agreeing that it seemed like a sound plan. They spent nearly another hour going over details. Gibbs didn’t really have a lot to offer, other than occasionally giving his opinion. Tony had a good head for this kind of shit, but Gibbs could tell his mate was happy to have him here.
After they’d shown the attorney out, Gibbs pulled Tony into an empty common room, wrapping his arms around his mate’s waist. “What do you want to do with the rest of your day?”
“I should probably catch up with Richard and Blair… people will start arriving tomorrow for the spirit dragon meeting and–”
“Not what I asked,” Gibbs interrupted. “What do you want to do?”
Tony’s lips quirked up. “Can we go flying again?”
Kissing his mate until they were both breathless, Gibbs eventually managed to reply, “Whatever you want, Tony.”
– – – –
Blair woke absurdly early on Friday morning. He was awake even before Jim, too excited about the possibility of this scroll to get more than the bare minimum of sleep. He almost didn’t care what it said, he just wanted to see it!
He was almost out bed before he was snagged around the waist and pulled against a hard body. “Too early, Chief. Go back to sleep,” Jim’s voice rumbled near his ear.
Blair squirmed a little, trying half-heartedly to get away. “Can’t. Too excited.”
“Shh. Sleep,” the voice insisted.
Blair tried to be still, but eventually tried to get up again. He quickly found himself flat on his back, his mate looming over him, looking exasperated. “I thought all that flying last night would have had you sleeping late. I guess I’ll just have to wear you out some more.”
He blinked a few times, then grinned. “Well, if that’s an offer, I guess I can stay in bed for a little longer.”
Jim’s head dropped and soft lips traced his throat scales, making Blair shiver. Since their bonding, those scales had become like a magnet for Jim. “Little?” Teeth nipped sharply. “You can stay a little longer?”
Blair laughed and moaned at the same time, which came out as an odd strangled noise. “Go ahead and pick up the gauntlet, man. Let’s see how long it actually takes.” His mate growled and pinned Blair’s arms above his head. His last coherent thought was that he loved getting Jim riled up.
It was nearly two hours before Jim had him completely worn out. And then it was actually time to get out of bed. He groaned as he looked at the clock. “Now I don’t want to get up.”
Jim chuckled and slipped out bed. “Up and at ‘em, Darwin. Musty old scrolls wait… well, apparently they wait a long damn time. But Tony won’t, so get a move on!”
Blair held out a hand, wiggling his fingers for help. Jim sighed, but pulled him out of bed, then guided him to the shower.
While dressing, he wondered how Tony was doing today. They had originally planned to meet to discuss the trust ideas last night, but Jethro had vetoed the idea. The whole thing with Tony’s father’s interview had really thrown Tony for a loop. It worked out because Richard and Blair had a ton of planning to do for the weekend. The last Blair had seen of Tony was as the couple returned from a second flight in the early evening. Jim had taken Blair out for a night flight before bed.
They headed down for a quick breakfast, Tony and Jethro weren’t there yet, but to his surprise Colin and Josiah were, along with all the other Denver crew. Ezra, Buck and JD had spent the last couple days in London, staying in Jeremy’s house, and had returned to the center late last night. Vin and Chris had been almost as reclusive as Colin and Josiah. Unsurprising considering how recently they’d mated. He had a hunch Buck and Ezra had spent most of the time holed up in their room at Jeremy’s, only venturing out occasionally to keep JD company.
Everyone exchanged greetings, then he focused his attention on Josiah and Colin. “How are you two doing? I wasn’t sure when we’d see you.”
Colin flashed him a small smile, and Blair took note that his emotional tone was pretty good, and he looked healthier. “This is so much more than I could have ever expected. I know I’ve already said this, but thank you so much.”
Blair knew it was important to just accept the thanks, and not just wave it off as if it were unimportant. “You’re welcome.” He considered the next question while chewing a bite of scrambled eggs. “Have you decided what you’re going to do? I’m sure long-term seems overwhelming, but maybe near term?”
To his surprise, Colin nodded decisively. “We’re going to Denver.” In response to Blair’s look of surprise, Colin added, “My family wants me here, but it’s just so paralyzing. I don’t know how to insert myself into my old life. I get all wibbly inside just thinking about it. I believe it will be good for me to just be someplace where there are no expectations of how I should be. They can visit after a bit if they like, but I can’t be here right now.”
Josiah pulled his mate a little closer, though they were practically joined at the hip already. “The rest of the team talked to Tony last night, and they’re hitching a ride as far as DC when Tony and Gibbs leave later today, we’re planning to go along, too. The center has been very accommodating, but we all think we’d settle better at home.”
“Wow. That’s great,” Blair enthused, happy that Colin had a path to take so soon. “And you know we’re here for you when, or if, you’re ready to come home. But I’m sure you’re going to do well with such a strong local Wing. You’re all going to do well.” He cast a speculative look at Vin. “Turns out I’m going to be in Colorado Springs next week. Let me know if you want me to do the spirit guide summoning for the blue Wyvern in Jack’s Wing.”
Vin considered for a few seconds, then shook his head. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather take care of it. Since Colorado is Chris’ immediate territory, I’d like to meet all the Alphas and Wyverns that I can.”
Blair nodded, happy that Vin was easily stepping into the leadership role with Chris. He glanced at JD, who looked a little run down. “You doing okay? Did the center doctor check you out?”
JD swallowed a bite before answering. “Yeah. He said everything is fine. Started me on that tea stuff, which tastes kinda nasty. Between the changes, and the tea making me a little slow, and all the running around London, I’m just tired. Normally, I’d be begging to stay longer, but I kinda want my own bed.”
“I totally get that. I miss home.” He felt a strong hand settle on his leg, giving a gentle squeeze. He shot a quick look at his mate, who seemed intent on his breakfast, but was always there when Blair needed support. “Have you guys booked your tickets from DC to Denver?” At the multiple head shakes, Blair added, “Then don’t. You were all here to help with a Council problem, our plane will take you home.”
Chris asked, “You sure about that?”
“Yes,” Jim replied assertively. “It’s a fairly short flight and it’s probably a wash as far as the cost goes compared to seven last-minute commercial flights.”
“Definitely,” Blair added. “Take the easy, fast and comfortable way.” He looked at the clock. “Where the hell is Tony? We have to leave in ten if we’re going to be even close to on time.”
Everyone smiled, but JD was the one who answered. “He and Gibbs were already here. Tony went to argue with Jeremy and Richard about the necessity of the E-Boys, as he calls ‘em, coming along for the day. If they’re not back soon, I’d think you can find ‘em wherever the big boss is.”
Blair scowled, having a feeling their outing was going to have an entourage.
Jim nudged him. “It’s the right idea, Blair. Even if it were just you and me, I’d want some security along. You’re too well known as a Council member and there’s Omega fever in the press.”
He sighed, and felt himself give in. If it were just the two of them, he’d fight harder, but he was worried about the media frenzy around Tony. Everyone was trying to buffer Tony from the press, but it was a real worry. He suddenly had a thought. “Was it this bad when I emerged?”
Jim looked thoughtful. “Pretty much. I think it’s a little worse for Tony here in England because of his connection to a Peer.”
“You ran interference so I wouldn’t know, didn’t you?”
His mate snorted. “Everyone around you ran interference, Chief. We didn’t want you to feel confined, but it was a bit of a nightmare keeping you from getting swamped by the media. Steven had the family attorneys working overtime to keep the press away as much as possible.”
Blair blinked in surprise. “Okaaay,” he drew out. “That’s… wow. Then I guess this is SOP and I’ll just shut up.”
Surprised, Jim dropped his fork. “Do I need to look for pods?”
In response, Blair just jabbed his elbow sharply into his Alpha’s ribs.
Tony and Jethro arrived about five minutes later, Jethro had no expression but Tony looked annoyed, so Blair figured he’d lost the battle. “Let’s go. Driver’s waiting,” Tony bit out.
Blair grabbed one more bite of toast while getting to his feet. “Are Edwin, Embry, Eric and Everett going with?” That was a mouthful. Blair thought Tony had the right of it in calling them the E-boys.
“Yeah. Everett is riding with us, the other three are going to follow.” Tony’s emotional feel was pretty good, better than it had been in days, despite the apparent annoyance. Taking the night off, flying and hanging out with the Colorado group did him a world of good. No doubt also helped greatly by more time with Jethro. The two really needed time alone without any pressure.
They all piled into the limo, Jim and Blair facing back, Everett rode up front with the driver, and the partition was up. This was one of Jeremy’s cars, so the barrier between front and back was reinforced and there were some subtle noise generators built into the stereo system controlled from the back. So it was highly unlikely the human driver or Everett, a Beta, could hear anything they discussed.
Blair knew they were meeting the Paddington solicitor and account trustee at Barclays to sign paperwork, then go to a document archive to get the actual scroll. He wasn’t sure who else, or where else, might be involved in the day.
“Where are we actually viewing this thing? I should have asked yesterday, but the day kind of got away from me,” Tony inquired
Waving it away, Blair replied, “Don’t worry about it, Tony. We’re going to the private facility of a document authenticator who works with Bonhams. He doesn’t know you’re coming, so that will be a surprise. He asked to see whatever I’m bringing in, but I told him it would depend upon what it said.”
Tony snorted. “Because that wouldn’t be weird… trying to explain an ancient note from my dragon daddy.”
Blair laughed, and could feel amusement from both the Alphas. “Odds are we won’t even be able to read it. Daniel’s the best I know at ancient languages, so we may have to wait until we see him.” He huffed a little in frustration. “What language did a dragon even use? Is it even words?” His hands moved quickly in time with his speech. “It could be a picture of some sort. Or a map, maybe. Wouldn’t that be weird? An ancient map? And why would Precious leave you anything when he can just talk to you? Maybe it’s from someone else?”
Jim’s hand was suddenly over his mouth. “Settle down, Darwin.”
Blair immediately licked his mate’s palm, and it was quickly withdrawn and wiped off on Blair’s thigh. He glared at his mate. “Next time, I bite.”
“No foreplay in front of the kids,” Jim replied blandly. Tony gave a surprised laugh and Jethro smirked. Blair elbowed his mate again.
“Before you two start with the licking and the biting, I wondered if you had any thoughts about JD’s sudden emergence?” Tony asked. “After I talked to the Denver contingent last night, it struck me again that the night Vin and Ezra emerged, JD got sick and sprouted scales the next day.”
Blair considered for a few seconds. “You sure it doesn’t have anything to do with you?” So much of the oddness lately did center around Tony.
“I’m not sure,” Tony hedged. “But my intuition says no.”
Jethro tapped the back of Tony’s hand. “I think it might have to do with Vin and Ezra directly.”
Tony looked at his mate. “Well, that would make more sense. In what way?”
Blair leaned forward, interested in the response.
Instead of answering directly, Jethro looked to Jim. “Did you happen to see a surge in Beta emergences after you and Blair mated?”
Immediately getting where Gibbs was going, Blair and Jim exchanged a quick look before Jim replied, “Yeah. A disproportionate number among former co-workers. It was over a period of about six months.”
Blair added, “Rafe and Henri were the first. They were already in a relationship, though they kept it under wraps. Well, until they emerged a day apart and mated. Then the cat was out of the bag.” He considered the ramification. “You think the Wyverns cause it?”
Jethro replied, “I wondered last night if Jack is going to see a rise in the number of Betas in his command with all those Wyverns around. He already has a disproportionately large number of Betas, but I think there’ll be more.”
Tony leaned forward a bit to look at his mate more directly. “What are you thinking?”
Jethro shrugged one shoulder. “Not sure, but Drakes, even Betas, seem pretty compelled to protect the Wyverns. If there aren’t enough…” he trailed off.
Blair nodded slowly, thinking it through. “That would make some kind of sense. Alpha Drakes can bring out Wyverns, and Wyverns need a good size Wing, so nature provides? We’ll have to have the council data analysts look for any deviations from standard emergences for Betas in cities where there is a mated Alpha/Wyvern pair. I have a feeling it will prove out your hunch. And Jack could certainly tell us if he had a surge in Betas in his command after he mated with Daniel. Come to think of it, Spence would love that project. I’ll talk to him about it.”
Also looking thoughtful, Tony asked, “So with all the new Wyvern emergences, which we hope will continue to rise in number, are we going to see a huge surge in the Beta population?”
Jim and Jethro exchanged a look, before Jim said, “I know you two are headed back after we finish all this document stuff, so Blair and I will throw the idea out for the Turners to consider. If it’s true, a big upswing in the dragon population could put a strain on the centers. We’ll need to monitor closely and have contingency plans in place.”
They discussed the possible ramifications of more emergences for a while, then chatted about random topics until they arrived at the bank. Thankfully the media hadn’t gotten wind of their arrival, but he fully expected them to get mobbed on the way out.
Eric and Embry came in with them, waiting in the lobby. Blair agreed with Tony that it would take a lot to get used to having guards all the time. He kind of hoped it didn’t become a reality.
To their surprise, Tony’s uncle was waiting in the conference room with the solicitors, Tony’s and the Paddington’s, plus the trustee. After the introductions, it was apparent that Jeffery Paddington was one of the trustees and had to sign off on everything at the time of transfer.
Tony had a mountain of paperwork, but looked toward Jim and Blair before diving in. “My lawyer brought a draft of the ideas we kicked around for the community trust. If you guys want something to do, you could look it over… let me know later what you think. Or you could go do something more fun than watching me get carpal tunnel, and come back later.”
Blair shook his head. “We’ll hang and read the docs. Let us know if you need privacy and we can join the E-boys. Gah. Now you’ve got me saying it.”
Tony smirked, then gestured for his solicitor to hand them the paperwork. Almost immediately, Tony was knee deep in financial documents, periodically giving his mate things to read and approve, and sometimes sign, much to Gibbs’ apparent annoyance.
Blair smiled and turned his attention to the documents in front of him. With Jim’s upbringing he had a lot more experience in this stuff than Blair did, so he figured he would rely on his mate for any serious contributions.
The provisions were pretty straightforward, and there were a lot of question marks about structure and governance. The principal would remain in trust, and the annual dividends and interest funneled to a discretionary account. The estimate of the annual amount of those dividends was 35 – 45 million dollars, which Blair found mind-boggling. From those funds, the first tier payments would be a flat five million to any Omega/Wyvern who emerged from the DiNozzo or Paddington lines. If there were inadequate funds in the discretionary account, the payments would come from the principal.
Next would be funds to help with Omega/Wyvern transitions, which Blair thought was brilliant. Most Wyverns joined their Alphas in their line of work, and job retraining was kind of common and a bit of a financial strain for some. The council often stepped in to help to some degree, which wasn’t a problem considering how few there had been. The trust would take that burden, and if the Alpha chose to join their mate, it would pay for any job retraining or salary continuance for the Alpha. It would also cover relocation expenses for the newly mated pair. Tony had a note in that he wanted to honor the intentions of the original trusts to take care of the Omegas, so the first two tiers would be devoted to that.
Third tier was payments to any dragon who lost a mate, or any orphaned children of dragons. The structure of those payments was vague, and there was a note that Tony wanted Council input. Also in the third tier was assistance with relocation and retraining for any Betas who moved at the behest of a mated Alpha. Blair wondered if Tony had a bit of a premonition when he’d stuck that in. If they were correct about Wings growing around Alpha/Omega pairs, that could be an incredibly helpful clause to take some of the burden of relocation and possible retraining expenses.
Fourth tier was very vague as a slush fund for Council related expenses, especially as it pertained to facilitating the return of the Wyverns. That was particularly nebulous as Tony wanted more oversight on that tier of spending – without it becoming a burden – and he needed input on how to structure that.
Fifth and final tier was discretionary spending of anything in the account from the prior year in excess of five million.
The governance was proposed as a board of trustees, but Tony and Jethro would act as primary trustees and have power to overrule any spending decisions of the board, and remove or change a member of the board at their discretion.
It all seemed reasonable to Blair, even the parts that were vague, so he was happy to see that Jim was making a lot of notes to give to Tony, because he wasn’t sure what he could say other than ‘good job.’
Lord Devon moved from Tony’s end of the table to theirs. “Excuse me, gentlemen. Tony mentioned you have copies of his trust proposal and asked for thoughts, so I thought to join you for a few minutes? He’s got quite a bit more paperwork to do.”
There was another copy in the folder so Blair handed it over, then turned his attention to Jim’s notes. He occasionally shot looks at Jeffery Paddington, who was completely engrossed in the papers. There wasn’t much family resemblance, except the eyes. Apparently Tony’s green eyes came from his mother’s side. Blair recalled from yesterday’s interview that DiNozzo Senior had blue eyes. Jeffery was tall and slender, and fairly oozed aristocrat from his pores. He had a natural elegance that actually reminded Blair of Tony in some way, though Tony was more expressive, even in his body language.
He shook off his musings and smiled when Lord Devon looked up, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Anything wrong?” Blair inquired softly as to not disturb the intense conversation and activity happening at the other end of the table.
“No,” Lord Devon answered after a few beats. He tapped the paperwork. “He’s a good man. He’s honoring the spirit of our ancestors’ wishes, yet making a huge resource available for the betterment of the community.”
Blair arched a brow. “Did you expect something different?” Jim was scratching away at his notes, but Blair knew he was paying attention.
“I don’t know what I expected. Tony has surprised me in many ways. I’m not certain many people would turn over nearly half a billion dollars to what amounts to a charity, when they could keep it for themselves.” He looked away for a moment. “On the surface he looks like his father, but he is much more like my sister.” Abruptly, he pulled a notepad that probably cost a ridiculous amount of money from his briefcase. He scrawled out a note, folded it in half and handed it to Blair. “If you’d give this to him. I’m afraid I must get back. It was a great pleasure meeting you both.”
After Lord Devon was gone, Blair fingered the expensive paper thoughtfully and hoped Jeffery Paddington had left something good for Tony, and not more angst.
Jim captured his attention and they discussed the trust in low tones while Tony and Gibbs continued working their way through the mountain of dead tree.
Blair had allowed three hours for the paperwork portion of the program, and hoped it wouldn’t be needed. At one point Tony passed Blair an inventory. Apparently Tony was entitled to all the antiques the scroll had been passed down in. The list was short, but the artifacts that had survived time should be in a museum. Tony had attached a note to that effect, wondering if someone here, maybe Richard, would oversee loaning them to the British Museum after the Council had time to examine them for any relevance to dragon history.
Enthusiastically, Blair made a to-do list to get that in process. He’d work with Richard to get the artifacts, though he had a hunch Daniel would make a special effort to get to see them before they vanished into a museum.
After two hours, it seemed like Tony was wrapping up. He’d wait to notify Dr. Ames, the document authenticator, of an early arrival until they knew how long it would take to actually retrieve the scroll.
As soon as Tony wandered down to their end of the table, Blair handed over the note. “From your uncle.”
Tony was a little hesitant to read the note, but managed to open the thick paper without too much delay. His uncle’s handwriting was painfully perfect.
You remind me of Claire, though perhaps not the Claire you knew. I see the very best of her in you. Thank you for honoring the intentions of our ancestors in how you’re structuring the trust. You’re a fine man, Anthony, and I’m proud to call you my nephew. I will always regret that I did not make a greater effort to be a part of your life.
If you ever have need of me, please call. It is my hope that I will see you again before too much time has passed.
Tony considered the words for a moment. He’d asked his uncle for any input, but the approval felt better than advice ever could. He thought it was too late for any tight family bonds, but it was nice to feel like he had family. Though he was a little emotionally unsettled, mostly he felt positive about the whole thing.
His mate came up next to him, a look of concern on his face. Without word, Tony passed over the note.
Jethro read it, and gave Tony a searching look, then nodded, tucking the note into the folder of papers they were taking with them. “Let’s get that scroll, Tony,” his mate prompted.
Tony nodded and grabbed the folder with the release paperwork they needed to claim the box with the scroll in it, cramming the whole thing in his messenger bag. His uncle had given him a vague warning that they might be unsettled by the scroll, though he wouldn’t give any more information, so Tony wasn’t sure what that was about since supposedly no one could decipher it.
Jethro had several other folders to add to Tony’s bag. Tony had been surprised that Jeffery’s solicitor had the paperwork ready to release Tony’s trust from his grandfather, and the paperwork to turn over the white Omega trust. That had been a bit of a scramble mentally as Tony wasn’t quite prepared to think about managing 380 million dollars yet. It was a good thing he’d asked his own lawyer to be here. There had been a surprising clause, to Tony anyway, in the British tax code that exempted these types of dragon trusts from taxation. And the American Government had agreements with England to honor those tax exemptions. Weirdness. He didn’t even have to pay inheritance taxes.
The media were outside the bank, but the E-boys got them through it quickly. At the high-security storage facility, it took quite a while, and several checks of paperwork and ID, but eventually they were given a box a bit larger than a legal-size file box and it was heavy as hell. Tony just handed the box off to Blair who looked like a kid at Christmas as they headed back to the car.
At some point, Blair had notified the documents guy that they would be a bit early, and he was waiting for them. The man was a bit of a stereotype, short, balding, round glasses. He even had a bowtie, which nearly made Tony laugh. He was also rather excitable, though from his rapid fire speech, Tony wasn’t sure if it was the document or the dragons he was so excited about. Maybe both.
He led them to a well-lit room with various height tables. The room was bright and dry, and Dr. Ames prattled on about the quality and dryness of the air, and the type of light bulbs used. Tony pretty much tuned it out and let Blair deal with the man.
Everyone was encouraged to wash and dry their hands thoroughly. They decided to use a high table that was somewhat small so that they could all gather round. Blair tactfully asked Dr. Ames to leave, promising to let him see if they could.
Then everyone was looking at Tony expectantly. “No gloves?” he asked.
Blair shook his head. “Myth, and can actually cause damage. Clean dry hands is best. Now open the box,” he ordered, bouncing a little.
Tony couldn’t help but smile at the enthusiasm as he cut through the tape sealing the box. Inside was what amounted to a fire-proof metal box, which accounted for the weight. He pulled it out and set aside the box. Inside that, nestled in custom cut foam lined with a soft material, was a large roll of leather. It was about a foot wide and maybe four inches across
He looked to Blair, who said, “It’s likely just an outer wrap that was probably replaced several times over the years. It’s clearly quite old, but not really ancient.”
Nodding, Tony removed the roll and set it on the table. He untied a leather thong and carefully opened it. What he found inside had him take an involuntary step back. Everyone else gasped, even his mate. “Are those dragon scales?” And really, ew.
“Yes,” Blair murmured, looking closely at the white rolled sheet of scales. “They’re really fine, so probably belly scales.”
“Ick.” Tony shuddered feeling uttering disgusted.
Blair looked up. “I’m sure there’s a reason a dragon would choose to use this. Though I understand your reaction. You want to keep going?”
Reluctantly Tony returned to the table and carefully began to unroll the scales. Beneath was some kind of paperish material that had clear near-black characters on it. It seemed in perfect condition.
“Whoa,” Blair gasped. “That’s- That’s unbelievable. It’s papyrus, but the condition… It must have something to do with–”
“Chief, hold on. Can we take it out of here safely and review it later?”
Blair shot Jim a look. “Is there a reason to?”
“Yeah,” Jethro replied instead of Jim. “We need to go. Now.”
Tony wasn’t one to question his mate’s gut, so started packing it up. Jethro grabbed the actual scroll with the dragon scale wrapper and subtly stuck it under his coat, while Tony packed the rest the way it had been.
Dr. Ames met them at the door, Eric close behind looking concerned. “Is there a problem?” the doctor asked nervously. “Will I be able to see the scroll?”
Jethro shouldered the man out of the way. “Urgent situation, we have to go.”
Blair seemed to want to try to placate the man, but Jim had him by the arm, tugging him along.
As they neared the exit, Eric murmured, “I was coming to tell you that there’s a suspicious van down the street – just arrived. For some reason I couldn’t get cell signal to message you. Cars are out front and running.”
“If anything happens, make a show of dropping the box,” Jethro murmured in Tony’s ear.
Tony got what his mate was thinking, if the scroll was the target, best to make it look like they left it. Jim and Jethro were both carrying their guns. Tony had opted not to and was wishing he had. They quickly exited and moved to the car. Everett and Embry were both waiting by the limo, with Edwin behind the wheel of the second car.
Almost as soon as they were visible, a black van sped toward them. Jethro grabbed Tony’s arm, almost throwing him toward the car, and Tony managed to fumble the box at the last minute.
Blair and Tony were shoved in first and they scrambled out of the way so their mates could get in. It was only a couple seconds before everyone was in the car and they were shooting away from the curb. They were clipped by the van on the driver’s side rear quarter panel. It nearly put them in a spin but the driver was good and kept control of the car.
They were cut off from the other car, but whoever was after them wasn’t chasing the E-boys, so Tony had some hope that their guards were safe. Jim was listening carefully, head cocked to the side. “They’re breaking off pursuit. Everett is calling in the police, and we’re headed to the police station to give a report.” After a few more seconds of listening, he added, “The other car is catching up.”
Jethro nodded, and continued his visual assessment of Tony. “Nice acting on that fumble. You okay?” He carefully removed the scroll from his jacket and handed it to Tony, who immediately handed it to Blair, who held it very carefully. It creeped Tony out to be holding anything made of white scales.
Tony sighed. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just annoyed that all the security concerns are apparently justified. Though I think that was about theft more so than us. When did you guys start to get a bad feeling?”
“My gut said it was not a good idea when we arrived,” Jethro replied. “But I also worry about safety all the time and it’s not always easy to separate. Eventually the feeling got stronger and I knew there was an issue. Then I spotted the video camera when we were told there was no active surveillance.”
Jim chimed in. “I kept hearing odd electronic noises. They were very faint, and I’m not really able to differentiate them yet. Then there was a sort of piercing hum. I happened to look at my cell and it had lost signal. I think that hum was a jammer. That’s when I said we had to go.”
Blair was looked upset. “I can’t believe Ames did that!” He looked right at Tony. “I’m so sorry Tony. It never occurred to me he’d risk his reputation and jail like this.”
“It’s not your fault, Blair. It’s not entirely certain he’s involved, though I suppose it’s likely. I assume he would be inferring that the scroll has value, so he felt it worth the payday?”
“Oh, it’s valuable. If that thing is approximately four thousand years old and in near perfect condition? Jesus… millions I’d say. He had no way of knowing the condition, but to see a scroll of that age? Even if it’d been in tatters, it’s incredibly valuable.”
Tony groaned. “Joy. And I guess the last thing we want is people thinking there’s value to dragon scales in preserving things. I’m glad we got out of there when we did. What exactly did he know about the scroll?”
“Richard and I told him the bare minimum. That the Council had an antique scroll to review and wanted to handle it in contained environment. I’m not sure how he jumped to the conclusion that whatever it happened to be was worth this.”
“Hmm. But he knew you were coming?”
“Me and Jim, and I told him there’d be a couple of others.”
Jethro broke away from another check out the rear window and focused on Tony. “I don’t think we have enough information to know that it was motivated by theft. Could have been about Blair, or Jim, or the idea that you’d be there. Let’s see what the police have to say. In the meantime, let’s wrap that thing in something.”
Ultimately Jethro sacrificed his undershirt to wrap the scroll in. Tony cleared out the messenger bag he’d brought for all his paperwork and stashed the scroll in it, leaving the papers in a heap on the seat. Blair called Richard, asking that a Council attorney meet them at the police station ASAP in case there were any legal issues that needed professional maneuvering.
Tony thought it couldn’t hurt to apprise his uncle in case the police wanted to do something moronic like keep the scroll in evidence. It took a bit of explaining to his uncle’s assistant, but he was ultimately put through. Uncle Jeffery said he’d have the family lawyer there immediately and would take other steps as well to ensure they were able to leave unimpeded.
They drove around a bit to give the attorneys time to take some action. Blair was threatening Jim with lots of training and testing of his enhanced senses. If Jim could hear the hum of electronic surveillance devices, Tony had to agree that those were some incredible senses.
When they arrived at the police station, the driver left them in front, and Eric, Embry and Everett came in with them.
The police wanted to separate them to get statements, but there was a provision in the law that an Alpha could not be separated from his Omega, so Tony and Blair at least got to stay with their Alphas. As expected, the police wanted to take the scroll into evidence, but they refused. Things were getting a little heated when the police abruptly backed down. They were eventually told that the Prime Minister himself had called CPS – which Tony assumed did not stand for child protective services – and the Chief Superintendent.
The whole process dragged on and Tony was getting hungry. They were well past lunch, and their flight was scheduled for six, so time was getting short.
Dr. Ames was the only one brought in; the men in the van had eluded the police. The police were able to retrieve the box and leather wrap the scroll had come in. Those items they agreed to allow to be checked into evidence. Jethro and Jim would be best able to question Ames since the man wouldn’t be able to lie to them, but the police declined. They eventually left, still not knowing why the whole mess had occurred.
Because time was so short, they grabbed takeout and headed directly back to the center. Tony figured once they arrived, they had at most an hour before they had to quickly pack and head to the airport. Blair got Jeremy and Richard up to speed via phone from the car to save time.
At the center, the four of them met Jeremy and Richard in the conference room. Jethro immediately took the reins. “We’re really short of time if we’re going to keep to our flight plan. Blair and Jim have a lot of stuff they’re going to follow-up on, we’ll check in tomorrow to see how the investigation is going.”
Jeremy nodded, looking thoughtful. “If it turns out this was a targeted attack against person rather than property, please be prepared for additional security to arrive.”
Jethro looked unimpressed, but relented a little. “If we can’t handle it in the local Wing, I’ll readily agree.” Why did Tony think that Jethro would ensure the problem was managed locally? Tony also had a hunch Jethro had had many conversations about security with Jeremy.
“Did you actually have time to look at the scroll?” Richard asked.
Tony shook his head. “Not really. And considering we were likely being recorded, it’s probably for the best. We can have a look at it now, though we don’t have much time.”
Richard was staring at the t-shirt wrapped bundle in Blair’s arms. “Is that what Blair is holding in that bit of shirt? Is that safe?”
“We’re pretty sure it’ll be fine,” Blair replied, setting it on the table. “It’s in remarkably good condition.”
“Is it all right that we be here with you to look at it?” Richard asked.
Tony shrugged. “I barely saw it, but don’t have much hope we’ll actually be able to read it. Figured we’d probably have to get a language expert. I’ll warn you that it’s wrapped in dragon skin. Scales… whatever. Guess it acts as some incredible preservative.” He barely managed to suppress another shudder.
Jeremy and Richard exchanged a look before Richard replied, “That’s rather disturbing. Well, if it’s acceptable, I’d love to see it. Dragon skin and all.”
Tony nodded to Blair who carefully removed the t-shirt and lay it on the table, then cautiously began opening the scroll. The characters were much more vivid than Tony would have expected. It wasn’t English, but Tony was starting to understand it the longer he stared at it.
“I can read it,” Blair said in surprise.
“As can I,” Richard murmured.
“Ditto,” Tony said, then glanced at the Alphas. They all shook their head in the negative.
“Read it out loud for the rest of the class,” Jim said, standing back from the table a bit.
“Do you mind, Blair?” Tony asked, feeling a little bit of dread about this thing.
“Okay… ah, some of these words I have to kind of interpret, so bear with me.”
Tony pulled a notepad close to make note of anything that was important to discuss later.
My Beloved Son,
My hope is that by the time you receive this, we will have already met. But there are many paths, and I must prepare for the one where we have not yet come into contact.
Amongst our people, I am known as the One Most Precious, but truly that is how I think of you. I know you will be called the Priceless One, but I call you my son because you will be the first Wyvern in my line to emerge after we retreat to human form. Though others of my Wing have given birth to many, the one I bore who took human form was my only child. That line will lead to you through your mother. The spirit that will guide you was also born of my soul. And so I think of you as my own.
The last Guardian of our people sired the line that will come to you through your father. You come from two very powerful dragon lines, and much will be asked of you.
If you are alarmed at the scroll’s wrappings, please be at peace. No dragon was harmed, but our scales will allow this scroll to be preserved for the many millennia it will take for you to appear. When we make the shift to a permanent human form, we are able to shed our dragon nature, and the last Guardian gave Its scales particularly for this purpose.
In order to fully hide amongst humans and protect our species, we have to surrender all of our dragon features, and it will be many, many years before our blood grows strong enough to see the dragons rise once more.
As you may have already inferred, my gift is the ability to see the future, and I have seen you in every future where we successfully return and see Wyverns thrive. If you choose to walk the path your nature will call you to, you have the ability to bring our race back to its former brilliance. We must meet in order for me to explain further. Of the futures I foresaw where you emerged, there were two where we did not meet before you received this letter. The first is where you emerged but did not choose a mate because he did not attend the gathering of the Drakes. And the second occurred when you emerged later in your life, and did indeed choose, but there was so much strife in your relationship prior to your mating that you did not follow your instincts and initiate a bond.
If the first is the case, and you remain unmated and are locked in your human form, I implore you to seek out the one you know in your heart is your intended, he is known as the excellent king. The reasons you left him were indeed just, but being right can be lonely, and serves you ill.
If the latter, I implore you to stop fighting your instincts. Your dragon nature pulls at you, but you fight it. Despite the certainty we dragons feel in one another, you fear being hurt by your mate. The bond has the power to heal you if you allow it.
It will be many, many years for me, but I already anxiously await our meeting. In every future where you exist, you were a dragon I was proud of. I realize it may seem odd to you to ‘meet’ one who is long past, but we Wyverns can exist in more than one plane, and the power of the bonding is enough to pull you to me on the plane of the spirits.
In some of the futures I foresaw, you and I were able to meet in the ether between spirit and tangible, but this was only possible if you emerged at very specific times in your life… times when you were more open, perhaps even more vulnerable, and not indurated fully to your future mate.
If there’s difficulty in your mating, please know that your mate may be hardened from life, but he will love you completely, and care for you always. What he has difficulty saying to you, he will always be willing to show you.
If we have met, then there is much you already know. You should know that you need the Shaman and the Master of the Gate to fully begin the process of our return. The three of you need to be together soon to complete the triad bond. Once the three of you are emerged, you’ll feel a pull to be together. If this is confusing to you, I ask you to please be patient until we can speak in person.
Future language is difficult for me to interpret, so I cannot give you all the information you need. At best I’m able to describe them. If you are in doubt about who these Wyverns are, please seek out the blue Wyvern who dwells on the plains, and the platinum Wyvern who is judged by God. I’ve tried to better understand your names, but find them quite confusing.
Together with the Sentinel, the Shield and the Guardian Drake, you have the power to protect our people and humans from a great threat that we inadvertently gave the power to cause much harm. It is regrettable, but in this case, and in your time, our mistake will fall to you six to remedy.
Some variants of the future show a necessity for large quantity of valuables, I have requested that our line provide that for you. Depending upon which path we are on, you may not require it, but consider it a gift from your ancestors to aid you in your task.
There is much I could tell you in this letter about your abilities, where we come from, where we have gone, and the threat you face, but many of these things are best left for when I meet with the six of you. Also, I want you to have every motivation to complete your bond and seek me out.
Be at peace, my son, and know that you are eminently capable. I look forward to being with you when our time comes.
Everyone was quiet for several seconds after Blair finished reading. Tony fought to tamp down any emotions that had cropped up. There were things in there he needed to discuss with his mate privately, and other things he wished hadn’t come up at all. Some of it just made no sense. All in all, he’d have rather read that alone.
Blair huffed a little. “Gee, Tony, no pressure.”
He snorted, appreciating the levity. “Yeah.” He looked at his notes, carefully not looking at his mate. “We have limited time, so let’s just get to it. I’m sure there are questions, but let me work my way through my notes and we’ll see where we’re at. First, and most trivial probably, Priceless One?”
Richard replied, “That’s you, Tony. Anthony means priceless.”
“Huh. Thought it meant flower.”
“No… it’s a common misconception. Unless you’re Greek and your parents intended it to be a derivation of anthos.” When everyone stared at him, he replied, “Names are a bit of a hobby of mine.”
Convenient, Tony thought. “I assume the excellent king is Gibbs. I actually do know the meaning of his names… Leroy is king and Jethro is excellence. Can I correctly infer that dwells on the plains is Blair?”
Blair nodded. “Yeah. My name means plains dweller. We’re probably lucky he was able to interpret that much of our name meanings considering the language difference. I do know judged by God is Daniel. Though if you hadn’t met us, I’m not sure those descriptions would have helped in any way. Maybe has curly hair, and the other lives under a mountain would have been more useful.”
Tony gave a startled laugh. “Yeah.” He looked back at his notes. “Okay, skipping all the stuff that’s private,” he looked at Richard and Jeremy, “Precious had mentioned that I needed to get together with Daniel and Blair to form some sort of triad bond that will aid us in some way. Since I didn’t know much, and still don’t, I didn’t reveal much about it to anyone, then asked Blair to set up some time with Daniel.” He hoped that careful oblique wording would get Blair off the hook.
Jeremy started to say something, but Richard put a hand on his arm and said, “You’re in a difficult and unenviable position, Tony, and we understand that. Please tell us what you can, when you can. I can understand the need to sort things out before taking them to a wider audience.”
Tony nodded, feeling grateful. “Thank you. I wasn’t trying to exclude anyone, I just wanted to have more information. What I have now is just a bunch of questions.”
Richard dipped his head in acknowledgment, and even Jeremy, who seemed more uptight about the whole thing, relented a little and nodded.
A hand settled firmly on Tony’s shoulder and Jethro said, “We have to get ready to go.”
Blair immediately rolled up the scroll and wrapped it again in Jethro’s shirt, handing it over to Tony. Tony felt a little better about handling the damn thing since he knew the sheet of scales hadn’t been peeled off a dragon. It was still a creepy, though.
They put off saying goodbye until they were actually ready to leave. Jethro put a hand at his elbow and guided him to their bedroom. Tony didn’t really need the guiding, but it was clear his mate was in a hurry.
As soon as the door was closed, Tony found himself pressed against it. Jethro closed his eyes briefly. “Don’t close yourself off from me, Tony.”
Tony realized he had thrown up a wall between them. “God… I’m sorry, LJ. I was so rattled by that. I…” he trailed off, trying to relax whatever it was he’d done to muffle their bond, but couldn’t seem to figure it out. “I don’t know how to undo it.”
Jethro stared at him intently for several seconds, then bodily moved him across the room and lay him on the bed. Tony blinked in surprise as his clothes were quickly removed.
“LJ, we have to get ready to leave.” Though, in truth, they had spent less time on the scroll than he had expected, so they weren’t quite as rushed as they could have been.
A hand settled over his mouth. “No talking.” Then his hands were pressed above his head. “No moving.” Lips and tongue teased his throat scales and he gasped as desire instantly rose up inside him. “Nothing is more important than this… than us,” was whispered against his skin.
He moaned and tipped his head back. Part of him wanted to talk, but part of him didn’t want to deal with the situation. But the dragon in him was perfectly happy to have it settled this way. A particularly wonderful application of Jethro’s teeth had him groaning and arching against his mate.
Lips pressed against his ear. “Be still. You have to surrender…”
The command resonated with his dragon, but for the first time since their mating, Tony struggled with how to give in. It seemed beyond his grasp. After several long moments, his inner fight with his own dragon nature ceased. Because, in the end, the only thing that really mattered was that he loved his mate, and they were in this together.
Tony kept still, though his mate’s skillful teasing of his bands caused desire to surge. His legs were lifted and placed over his Alpha’s shoulders. A moment later his mate was pressing into him. He instantly felt the emotional barrier he’d placed between them collapse.
“That’s it. Open up to me, Tony.” Then Jethro finally kissed him, aggressively exploring his mouth. The bond hummed between them; the feelings of love, protection, desire, and possessiveness saturating every corner of Tony’s being.
The pleasure in his body burned as hot as the emotions coming through the bond. His mate drove them ruthlessly toward orgasm, pulling them both over the edge with brutal intensity.
While Tony was still catching his breath, his mate framed his face with both hands. “I love you, and nothing is more important.” Jethro kissed him gently. “Whatever it is, we’ll work it out.”
Tony nodded, feeling a little stunned.
They took a few precious minutes to just be close, then they had to get ready to head home. Just the thought was all Tony needed to propel him into action. He only slowed his pace to carefully pack the scroll, resolutely not thinking about how having such a personal note read to so many people had made him feel.
Their departure was swift and Jethro kept him close at all times. Tony was feeling rather vulnerable and exposed, so was happy to let his mate run interference. They made it to their plane only ten minutes late.
Jethro settled them into side by side fully reclinable seats near the back of the plane. With the six ATF agents and Colin on board, it wasn’t exactly calm and quiet, but Tony didn’t care.
He was going home.
– – – –
Tony watched intently as the tiny shapes that made up DC got closer as the plane began its descent. It was nearly 0700 local time, and he was anxious to finally be home. Jethro was sleeping peacefully in the chair next to him. Tony had slept for a little while, but his racing thoughts made real rest hard to come by.
Perhaps if he would actually think through the events around having that letter read aloud, he’d be able to settle down, but he just didn’t want to focus on it. If he could get away with it, he’d suppress it and never think of it again.
The flight had been uneventful. Once he’d come out of some of the emotional shock of the day, he’d spent time chatting with the ATF crew. He really liked the whole team, and hoped they’d have reasons to cross paths in the future. Especially Ezra. On the surface, Ezra seemed much the same as when they’d met, but his whole emotional tone was different. Relaxed, content, at peace.
Colin was doing much better than Tony had expected so soon after his rescue. Josiah seemed like the best possible thing for him, and Tony was inclined to think that getting away from the UK was a wise choice. Because how do you slot back into your old life after being in captivity for so long?
As soon as the wheels touched down, Jethro woke, disgustingly alert. He squeezed Tony’s hand. “Happy to be home?”
“Yeah.” He gave his mate an intent look. “I have a lot to be happy about.”
Jethro’s lips quirked up, then he gave Tony a quick kiss.
While they waited for the customs agent, they said their goodbyes to everyone. Tony picked up on some mild angst from each of the Wyverns at his impending departure, but it seemed like that might be par for the course going forward. Wyverns seemed instinctually attached to him. Someday there’d be less things pressing at them and he’d ask Precious what that was all about.
After the customs agent had finished and left the plane, Tony and Jethro made their farewells and headed out into the bitingly cold DC winter. This year seemed much colder than any in recent memory, and Tony was glad to have a dragon’s constitution for it, rather than his old plague-scarred lungs.
Tony should have been surprised to find Rick and Cassie waiting for them on the tarmac with a black SUV, but he really wasn’t. He knew Jethro had arranged for transportation, and he wasn’t at all surprised that it came with a side order of added security.
He shook hands with both, then climbed into the back with Jethro, anxious to be on their way. What did it say about the state of his life that he was getting used to having a driver?
“Everything’s set, Gibbs,” Rick commented from the front passenger seat as they were leaving the airport. “Two hour shifts. I emailed you the schedule and contact info for each team, but also left a print out on the table.”
Before Tony could inquire, Jethro replied, “Thanks, Rick. Appreciate it.” He turned to Tony. “Media already got wind that you’re coming back. The Council set their attorneys to handle keeping them off the property until we can get our own lawyers.”
Tony smirked. “Never thought I’d see the day where you voluntarily talked about getting a lawyer.”
Jethro gave him a look. “They have their uses,” he reluctantly conceded. “I asked Rick to coordinate with a local security company to get a security system in the house and on the property, as well as provide manpower as a general visible presence.”
He nodded. That made sense. Rent-a-cops and lawyers could handle the media. But Tony sensed more coming.
“Also, members of our Wing are going to be keeping watch. That’s what Rick was referring to. There’ll be pairs in two hour shifts at all times.”
Tony nearly choked. “What? I don’t want people’s lives upended like that!” Being a big city with many law enforcement agencies, DC had a larger than typical number of dragons, but this would still tax the local Wing.
“Seriously, Tony,” Rick interjected, “If Gibbs hadn’t asked, members of the Wing would have been lurking around outside his house. It’s saner with a schedule.”
Not sure if he wanted to laugh or cry, Tony just threw his hands up, he’d have to fight it out with his mate later.
Jethro grabbed his hands and smirked at him a bit. “If it makes you feel better, in the process of having a security system and locks installed, there might have been a cable installer here as well.”
Tony’s eyes widened, and he let himself be diverted. “You got cable? And locks? I think you might be the best mate ever,” he said with a laugh. He gave his mate a quick kiss, but he was getting a lot of smugness through the bond. More than cable and locks warranted. “What else?” he asked suspiciously.
“You’ll just have to wait and see,” his mate replied evasively.
Knowing Jethro was trying to distract him from the security issues, Tony let the whole thing go. But he was now insanely curious about what would be waiting for them at the house.
It didn’t take long to reach Jethro’s house. Though everything was blanketed in snow, the walk and drive were shoveled and the truck cleared of snow and ice. Tony was surprised to find his car there, also free of snow.
There was a vehicle with the logo of a prominent security company parked behind Tony. He absently made note of all the changes as they headed inside, Rick and Cassie following to show them the security system.
The minute Tony was inside, he twigged in to something being different, though it took him a beat to process what. “Is that…” He didn’t really even have to finish the question. He was looking right at it, and it wasn’t an apparition. Somehow his baby grand was in Jethro’s den.
Willing to wait on the den, he moved further into the living room and found everything was different. Pretty much anything that was wood was still the same, but everything else was Tony’s. Tony’s couch, Jethro’s coffee table. Jethro’s dining table, Tony’s dining chairs. Then there were some flat out additions. The living room was more crowded with Tony’s larger TV in the corner, but it still seemed to work.
He spun around, facing his mate who was leaning against the wall and just watching him. “How’d you do this?”
Jethro’s lips quirked up. “Lot of help. Abby.” He tilted his head toward Rick and Cassie, adding them to the helper list. “McGee. I think Rossi was even involved in some way.”
“He took care of the piano moving,” Rick supplied.
Tony was completely floored. “Why?”
Instead of answering, Jethro turned to Connelly. “Rick, can you give me the rundown on the security system later?”
“Sure. Cass and I are your watchers until ten this morning, so we have a couple hours. Or I can swing by later today.” They both nodded at Tony then quickly left.
Jethro moved to stand right in front of Tony. “Which why, Tony? Why is your stuff here? Why did everyone chip in to help?”
“Yes. To both.”
“You’d already asked Abby to see about movers, but I asked her to speed up the timeline, and everyone else volunteered to help. As to why they did it… because they like you and care about you.”
Tony blinked a few times. He got the words, but it just wasn’t something he was used to. It wasn’t that he didn’t think people cared about him, he just wasn’t accustomed to anyone doing things for him. Although maybe the truth of it was that he never let anyone.
“As to the other…” Jethro cupped his jaw, rubbing a thumb over his cheekbone. “This is home, Tony. Who knows how long we’ll be here or if we’ll have to live in another state, or even another country. But wherever we land, it’s the two of us.” Jethro cocked his head to the side. “Did you think you’d just stick your stuff in storage?”
Tony hadn’t really spent a lot of time thinking about it, but the passing thought he’d had? “Yeah. I guess I did.”
Jethro seemed a little sad. “It doesn’t work that way.” Tony was pulled toward the sofa, his coat pulled off and dropped over the leather club chair that used to sit in Tony’s living room. “Sit.”
They sat side by side, Jethro leaning back against the arm of the couch, pulling Tony close, head resting on Jethro’s chest. Tony was a little reluctant, but after a few minutes of Jethro’s quiet patience, Tony relaxed. He pulled his legs up, stretching out, letting his weight fully rest against his mate. They were two large men, so it was a good thing Tony had a big couch.
His mate’s arm was tight around him. “Your emotions are a bit of a jumble, and I can’t read your mind. So, tell me what’s going on in that head of yours?”
“Uh… It’s kind of lots of things.”
“Start with something small then,” Jethro prompted
“I’m glad I bought a big couch,” he blurted out.
Jethro laughed. “Me too. Another small thing.”
“Strangers were touching my clothes.” Logically he’d known other people were going to pack his stuff, the idea of people messing with his clothes bugged him.
His mate didn’t say anything but Tony could feel his amusement. After a beat, Jethro prompted, “What else?”
“It’s a good thing I inherited millions, because otherwise my Caf-Pow debt to Abby could bankrupt me.”
“True.” A soothing hand stroked his hair. “What else is ratting around in there?”
Tony decided to go for something a little more serious. “In my head I’ve always thought of you as both the proverbial immovable object and the unstoppable force. And yet, you seem way bendier than I’ve been.”
Jethro laughed. “Bendier?”
Tony huffed. “You know what I mean. I’ve been thinking about this a bit. Nothing seems to faze you. And now you’re turning your home inside out.”
“Stop. It’s our home.” Jethro sighed. “Let’s try this another way. How would you feel if we had to live in your apartment?”
“Uh, a bit crowded,” he retorted dryly.
He was firmly poked in the side for the smart remark. “Would you think of me as a visitor?”
“Of course not!”
“Would you expect everything I own to be put in storage or gotten rid of?”
“No,” Tony said firmly, entirely getting where his mate was going. “I get it. Intellectually, I get it. It’s not… I just… You’re so okay with all this change. It’s just not how I thought you’d be. Add to that, I’m surprised at how much I’m struggling.”
“Let’s take those one at a time.” Strong fingers turned Tony’s head, tilting it up so their eyes met. “I don’t care about the changes, Tony, because at the end of the day, I get you. That’s all that matters. And I think it’s fair to say any preconceptions you had about how I’d be in a relationship should be tossed out the window. I may be inflexible at work, but I never was with Shannon, and I won’t be with you.
“As for you struggling… I’ve been a dragon since I was a teenager. Most of the dragons you’ve met have been dragons for a long time, and most of us struggled with the changes at the start. You just can’t see that. Reid is the most recently emerged of those you’ve met, besides your kids,” Jethro accepted the elbow to the ribs for that crack then continued, “and you have no idea how badly he reacted at first. Get him to tell you about it some time.”
Tony thought it likely that a large part of Reid’s issues after his emergence, whatever they were, had to do with the intense empathy he didn’t know how to control.
“And of those you’ve sired, they’ve had relatively little to deal with after their emergence. You haven’t had any uninterrupted time to get used to your dragon instincts. No one that I know of has had fate dumped on them within hours of emerging and you’ve handled it well. Cut yourself some slack, Tony. Stop trying to figure out how you’re supposed to be, and just be.”
Tony tried to take all that in. Maybe time really was all that was needed, and there had been a lot going on. “Okay,” he relented. “We’ll just call this a vacation from my neuroses.”
Jethro chuckled. “Good idea.” His mate looked at him carefully. “You want to talk about that letter from Precious, or save it?”
Tony felt his face warm. “God… I hate that the note was read in front of so many people. Can we save it for later? You’re not wrong about it being seriously on my mind, but I just can’t deal with it now.”
Jethro nodded. “Come on.” He tapped Tony on the hip. “Up. Let me get Rick back in here so we can learn this security system. Abby stocked us with food and I have no intention of leaving the house until we have to.”
“Sweet,” Tony enthused, getting to his feet. “I’ve been wanting you all to myself for… well, for years, actually.”
Abruptly, his mate pulled him close and gave him a hard, searching kiss. “Me, too,” was finally whispered against his lips.
Tony smiled, absurdly pleased by Jethro’s admission. He listened absently as Jethro called Rick and Cassie back inside. They all went over the security system and set new codes. Jethro entrusted the codes to the pair in order to handle things at the house when Tony and he were absent.
Cassie and Tony wound up chatting while Jethro went over additional things with Rick.
“I forgot to follow-up… did you and Rick bond while I was in Colorado?” he inquired.
Cassie shook her head. “We thought about it. Blair was kind enough to summon our spirit dragons, we wanted to do that much, and it’s pretty amazing to feel so much more in touch with the dragon, but decided to put off bonding in hopes that you and Jethro could attend.”
He blinked in surprise. “Really?”
“Tony, you’re our Omega Prime, of course we want you there. And Gibbs is directly Rick’s Alpha, so it’s important he be there.”
“Um…” Tony wasn’t sure how to respond to that. He knew, or course, that Jethro was Alpha Prime, but hadn’t drawn that to its logical conclusion. “I guess I’m still trying to figure out everything. I’d love to attend.”
Cassie gave him a quick grin. “You guys have been busy. It’ll keep for a bit. When things settle down, we’ll ask for a slot on your schedule.” She fished a card out of her bag and handed it to him. “This is the director of the West Virginia Center. They’re handling everything right now, but you might want to check in with them soon.”
Tony frowned. “Handling what exactly?”
“Press requests, endorsement requests, fan letters… the list goes on. But you’ll want to sync up with them at some point about how you want things handled going forward.”
Sighing, Tony replied, “I’ll get in touch with him. I don’t think things’ll settle soon, but I’ll sort it out.”
She hesitated, seeming to want to say something.
“Go ahead, Cass. Just say what’s on your mind.”
“I’ve been thinking you might want to get an assistant? I understand most of the Omegas have them, though I’m not sure about Reid. It would be a single point of contact for everyone, and then you’d only have one person you need to keep up to date with.”
He considered for several seconds. “That’s a pretty good idea. It’s just so weird to suddenly need an assistant.”
“Just think about it. If you want one, the local Wing can get some prelim candidates for you to review.”
“Actually, could you just put it into motion? Maybe email me some profiles or something? Things promise to get busier and I think it would help to have someone managing shit.” He grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down a couple email addresses. “This is my Council email address, the other is Gibbs’. I’m trying to keep these to a tight list so we have at least one address that’s not getting swamped.”
Cassie glanced at it, then did a double take. “Gibbs at dragons.com, I get, but ADD at dragons.com? Someone has a quirky sense of humor.”
“Really? What’s the middle ‘D’?”
“Dominic. I have a hunch Richard picked my email address. His sense of humor is definitely quirky.”
She smirked at him as she slipped the paper in her pocket. “I’ll send you some stuff by the end of the day, but take your time and get to it when you’re ready.”
They chatted for a few more minutes before Jethro and Rick joined them. The Beta pair left shortly thereafter, and Jethro started hauling him upstairs. “In a rush?”
“I want you out of that turtleneck.”
Tony grinned. “Just my turtleneck?” The Council was still trying to keep the throat scales under wraps, so most of them had been wearing turtlenecks or high-neck shirts in public. He knew Jethro didn’t like not seeing his throat scales.
“Oh I’m pretty sure I can get you out of everything.”
Tony had never even been in the master bedroom, but was surprised there weren’t boxes everywhere. He barely had time to absorb a heavy wooden queen size bed covered in a duvet in shades of charcoal and dark plum, which seemed kinda weird for Jethro, before he was stripped quickly and tossed on the bed.
He was still laughing when his newly naked mate joined him, lips unerringly finding black throat scales. The laugh morphed into a groan.
After several minutes of gentle exploration and petting, Jethro pulled back, just staring at Tony.
He started feeling self-conscious. “What?”
“You’re so fucking beautiful,” Jethro replied on a whisper, tracing the scales around Tony’s waist. “I’ve wanted you in my bed for so long.” His hand moved to Tony’s face. “It feels so right having you here.”
Tony felt his face warm. “This is where I’ve always wanted to be.” He captured the wandering hand, threading their fingers together. “I love you so much.”
Jethro’s lips settled on Tony’s for a slow, exploratory kiss. Their tongues tangled in Tony’s mouth as Jethro shifted on top of Tony, nudging Tony’s legs apart.
Without hesitation, Tony wrapped his legs around his mate, arching up, lost in the kiss. He lifted his free hand to play with the scales behind Jethro’s ear.
Lips slowly parted and Jethro whispered, “I love you, too, Tony.”
To Tony’s surprise, they kept the pace slow. Lazy touches and deep drugging kisses had them both aroused, but they were content to let the fire build slowly.
Jethro was teasing Tony’s thigh scales and kissing his navel when Tony decided he wanted a change of venue. “Let’s take a shower.”
His mate looked up. “Now?”
“Yeah. I want you to push me up against the wall with the water pouring over us and fuck me until I can’t see straight.” He found himself practically yanked off the bed and hauled to the bathroom.
Soon the hot water was warming Tony’s back as Jethro pulled him close, lips latching onto his throat. He groaned at the sensation that raced through his body. Moments later, he was lifted and pressed against the wall, one leg was over Jethro’s shoulder, the other guided around a strong waist. His arousal spiked and he was suddenly desperate to have his mate inside. He shivered as his mate’s cock teased his entrance.
“Tell me why,” his mate whispered in his ear.
He groaned. “Jethro, please…”
The cockhead slid across his slippery opening repeatedly. “Why?”
Squirming as much as he was able, he resisted for a few more seconds, but a few more teasing brushes against his hole had him surrendering. “It’s so hot… how strong you are.”
“What else?” Jethro prompted urgently, then licked Tony’s throat.
Whimpering at the sensation, Tony replied, “I feel so open and vulnerable and I can’t move.”
“That turn you on?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “And the hot water on my scales just amps it up.”
Jethro tipped his head back enough to meet Tony’s eyes, then deliberately shifted his grip to bring Tony’s other leg over his shoulder.
The position had him completely pinned and open. His eyes rolled back in his head.
“Look at me.”
With effort, Tony met Jethro’s gaze, seeing love and lust and no small amount of possessiveness. In the next instant he was filled and he’d have screamed if he hadn’t stopped breathing.
Jethro was still until Tony pulled in a ragged breath, then he started moving, fucking into Tony hard and fast.
He clung to his mate, lost in sensation, relishing the escalating tingling in his spine as the orgasm neared. After long, relentless minutes, Jethro’s lips finally claimed Tony’s mouth, tongue sweeping in demandingly. The kiss was enough to push Tony over the edge.
Jethro continued to pound into him, which Tony accepted eagerly. He loved it when Jethro didn’t come right away. Something about the post-orgasm lassitude combined with the immobility and surrender just shorted out all his circuits.
Eventually his mate gave in to his own climax, but they continued to kiss and touch until the water started to cool, which was sufficient impetus to quickly get to the actual bathing portion of the program. Once out of the shower, Tony found many of his toiletries in obvious locations around the master bath. “We so owe Abby,” he murmured.
“Fortunately, you’re independently wealthy and can buy her stock in Caf-Pow.”
“Hate to break it to you, Jethro, but we are wealthy. You’re not sticking me alone with all that money. I’m putting you on every single account.”
Jethro rolled his eyes and headed out of the bathroom while Tony tried to get his hair in some sort of order. In the bedroom, a half-dressed Jethro pointed him toward a solidly built chest of drawers in a dark finish. “That’s yours, though not sure if there’s anything in it.”
Tony found pretty much the contents of his main dresser at his old place. “Jesus, I’m gonna have to put a Caf-Pow machine in Abby’s lab.”
Arms came around him from behind and fingers teased at his throat. “Wear something without a collar.”
Tony couldn’t help but smile. “I figured.” He was barely into his jeans when there was a knock at the door. Must be someone they knew or one of the guards. The list of people who could be let by the watchers was pretty short.
Jethro headed down while Tony finished dressing, pulling on a snug white t-shirt. He heard an excited yelp followed by, “Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs!” He smiled at the sound of Abby’s voice.
He had barely cleared the stairs before he was jumped on. The increase in his own strength, though nothing to compared to Jethro’s, allowed him to catch her without even staggering.
“Tony!” Abby squealed in his ear as her legs came around his waist. “You look awesome! I missed you.”
“Hey, Abbs,” he replied distractedly, his dragon senses spinning wildly. Something wasn’t right. Or maybe just different. He pried her off him carefully. “Let me look at you, Abby-girl.” He held her at arm’s length, looking her over from head to toe.
She looked tired, and like she had lost weight. She was dressed pretty casually – for Abby anyway. Her hair was down, she was wearing tight low-riding cargo pants, knee-high boots, tight purple dragon t-shirt tucked into her pants.
The dragon t-shirt made everything snap into focus and he caught his breath. “Oh, Abby.”
“What?” she asked, looking confused.
Jethro moved close. “Something wrong, Tony?”
“I… I’m not sure.” He turned her head to the side and saw just what his dragon senses said should be there.
Jethro saw it too. “How is that possible?”
Abby twisted her head back around. “What? Is something wrong?”
Tony hesitated for a few seconds, then decided to just get to it. “You’re emerging, Abby-girl.”
She blinked at him repeatedly, then frowned. “That’s not possible. Why would you joke about that?”
“I’m not joking. Your prescales will clear your earlobe pretty soon, probably today. You should be able to feel them.”
Abby’s fingers shot to the back of ears. “I’ve been itchy… I thought it was my hair products giving me a rash. And I’ve had the flu.” Her fingers danced over the skin behind her ears.
“I doubt it’s the flu. Here… let’s sit.” Tony guided a stunned Abby to the couch while Jethro indicated the phone and disappeared into the kitchen, probably to call Ducky.
They sat in silence with Abby cuddled up next to him for several minutes, before she managed to ask haltingly, “You sure?”
“Did you do this?”
“I honestly don’t know, Abbs. I just don’t know.” He hesitated a second. “Are you unhappy?”
Abby pulled away enough to look at him. “No! Don’t even think that. I’m… I guess I’m sort of in shock, but I think I’m gonna be really excited eventually. I’ve always wanted this, but it was never a possibility, and now it’s real, and I’m kind of stunned.”
Jethro appeared, setting his phone on the coffee table and sat on the other side of Abby, giving her hair a gentle tug. “Ducky’s on his way. I told him we had a newly discovered emerging Beta here and needed his help.” He slid his arm around Abby. “You okay?”
She nodded, but shifted to lean her head against Jethro’s shoulder. “Tony made me a dragon,” she said a in a conspiratorial whisper.
Tony snorted in amusement.
“I’ll talk to him about that. He should definitely ask first,” Jethro said teasingly, and Tony really liked seeing this side of his mate.
Abby peered up at Jethro. “Am I really gonna be a dragon?”
“The prescales say yes,” Jethro replied with only a slight hesitation.
She craned her head around to look at Tony. “After Ducky gives me my tea and I’m feeling a little better, I’m gonna give you a big kiss.”
Tony held his hands up. “I really don’t know that I had anything to do with this.”
“You so did,” Abby insisted. “Nothing else makes sense. You’re my fairy dragon mother.” She scrunched up her nose as Jethro laughed. “That sounded better in my head.”
“No more mommy references of any kind,” Tony insisted, then reached for her hand. “If you’re happy, that’s all that I care about. Except for the fact that I may owe you an entire Caf-Pow machine for all the work you did in just a week. You’re a goddess!”
Abby sat up, resting comfortably between them. “I’ll happily take the Caf-Pow, but I really can’t take all the credit. It was a serious group effort. Lots of people chipped in. Rick and Cassie, Ducky, Jimmy; Rossi and Derek came by yesterday, and McGee helped a bunch, too.” She gave Tony a sad look. “He’s really sorry, Tony.”
Tony waved it off. “I’m not holding a grudge, Abbs. And I’m not avoiding him, or writing him out of my life, or anything else that might be running through your head. I just haven’t had time to deal with anything that wasn’t right in front of me, other than send him that one email.” He squeezed one of her hands. “I’m not sure how in the loop you are, since LJ’s been in touch with you, but we’re headed to Denver sometime on Wednesday. We need a bit of time to settle down and be together, but how about we have team dinner on Tuesday if everyone’s available and there’s no hot case? We can have it here… Jimmy, Ducky, you and McGee. I’ll cook.” He glanced to his mate. “That okay?”
Jethro nodded. “Whatever you want to do.”
“Aww,” Abby enthused. “You guys are so good together.” She hugged Jethro around the waist. “I knew you’d be a softie if you were happy.”
Jethro just shook his head in exasperation, but returned the hug.
Tony got up. “I’m making coffee for LJ before he expires from caffeine withdrawal. Abby, since we don’t have a soda fountain in the house, what’s your poison?”
“I put soda on the shopping list for McGee. I’ll take that if he actually got it. I should tell you that I didn’t even try to meld your kitchen stuff. It was kinda daunting, so all of your kitchen is in the storage facility.”
“That’s fine. I can’t believe how much melding you got done, and you did a great job.” Tony left for the kitchen, giving Abby some time alone with Jethro.
The kitchen was stocked really well. They wouldn’t have to go out unless they wanted to. There was even some 00 flour so he could make good pasta. It was a little on the early side for lunch, but he was actually kind of hungry. While the coffee was brewing, he threw together a plate of sandwiches and then took everything to the table.
“Get in here, you two.” As soon as they appeared, Tony added, “Abby, not sure if you’re hungry, but there’s enough for you.”
She shook her head, reaching for the big glass of Coke. “Nah. Haven’t been very hungry lately. I’ll be fine with liquid calories.”
They chatted idly for a few minutes while Tony and Jethro ate. Tony could tell Abby had questions but she seemed to be holding them for the time being.
They were settled back on the couch when there was a knock at the door. Jethro let Ducky in, and he was carrying his medical bag in one hand and a paper sack in the other. Tony was immediately up and gave Ducky a quick hug.
The hug was returned with enthusiasm. “Anthony, my dear boy, it truly is a real pleasure to see you looking so well. I didn’t expect to see you quite so soon into this trip.”
“Hey, Ducky. It’s good to see you, too. We were going to get settled in today and had thought to get caught up with you tomorrow, but things changed a bit.”
“Quite right. Where’s the young dragon-to-be?”
Tony gestured to the couch. “She’s right there.”
It seemed pretty much nothing got Ducky visibly rattled. “The unusual does seem to follow you around.” He handed the paper bag to Tony, then crossed to the couch and held out a hand. “Come along, my dear, we’ll adjourn to the guest bedroom so I can give you a quick checkup.
“Anthony, while I am with Abigail, do brew that tea. The instructions are inside. Be prepared to fill me in on why you have black scales around your throat!” As he was headed down the hall, he called back. “And in case you were not yet aware, the media have arrived. Now, my dear, tell me how long you’ve been feeling poorly, actually, it puts me in mind of this time…” Ducky’s voice trailed away as the door was closed.
Groaning internally at the mention of the press, Tony headed for the kitchen, calling back, “You want some more coffee, LJ?”
“Is that a real question?”
He snorted. “Just bring your mug.”
As soon as he had the kettle on for the tea, Jethro pulled him close. “You okay with this?”
“With Abby being a dragon? Sure. I’m happy for her. She’s always wanted this.”
Jethro raised a brow. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it. This has something to do with you. How do you feel about it?”
Tony sighed and shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. I think I’m going to file it under ‘things I’ll have to ask Precious about, but that are not worth getting wrapped around the axle over’.”
Kissing his temple, Jethro murmured, “Healthy attitude. I like it. You okay if Abby stays the night? I’d like to keep an eye on her… make sure she’s feeling better.”
“Of course I don’t mind. Be serious.” He gave his mate a quick kiss. “Now let me make this nasty tea.” While he perused the instructions, he asked, “Do we need to do anything about the press?”
“The security guard will keep them off the property, and the Wing members on guard duty will help if necessary. Not much more we can do. If they start to block the street or make a nuisance of themselves, the local LEOs will deal with it.”
Tony measured the correct amount into a mug. “Guess we’ll just have to stay in the house and avoid the world.” He glanced at his mate. “What ever will we find to do with our time?”
Jethro pressed him back against the cabinet and claimed his lips in a bruising kiss. Tony clutched at his mate’s shoulders and found himself lifted onto the counter. He wound his legs around his mate’s waist, bringing their erections into contact. Groaning into the kiss, he tried to get closer.
A couple minutes later, the sharp whistle of the kettle brought him out of his lust-filled haze. “Damn,” he muttered, thunking his head back against the cabinet. Jethro chuckled against his throat, causing Tony to shiver then try to wiggle away. “Come on, lemme go… gotta get the kettle.” The blaring of the damn thing was getting annoying.
“Never letting you go, Tony,” Jethro whispered in his ear, then set him back on his feet.
Tony removed the kettle, grinning stupidly, while Jethro went to assess the situation out front.
After a few minutes, Abby and Ducky reappeared and seemed to gravitate to the kitchen table. Tony set the tea in front of Abby. “Probably still really hot,” he warned.
Ducky looked to Tony. “Abigail filled me in on the new scales as a result of your bonding. They’re lovely. Congratulations.”
Tony self-consciously rubbed his throat. No one had referred to them as ‘lovely’ before. “Thanks, Ducky. I’m sure we have a lot to tell you about what’s gone on the last couple weeks.”
Before Ducky could ask anything further, Jethro joined them at the table. “She okay, Duck?”
“Nothing a bit of tea won’t cure. She could use some extra rest, but she’ll be fine.” He looked to Abby. “Take one dose daily before bed, and feel free to take tonight’s dose even though you’ve just had one. There’s enough for a few days there, but I’ll have the center overnight some to you on Monday.
“You’ll want to begin making accommodation. Based on when you first started feeling ill, and the progression of your pre-scales, I’d say you’ll emerge in just around three weeks, so plan to be at the center by the Thursday before, no later. You’ll want to schedule the week following your emergence away from work, and plan to stay at the center.”
Abby nodded, looking a little dazed, then looked between Jethro and Tony. “I guess you guys won’t be able to be there.”
Jethro squeezed her hand. “If we can manage it, we’ll be there. You have your bag in the car?”
“Course! I learned from the best. Why?”
“Want you to stay here tonight… we want to keep an eye on you.”
Abby blinked. “But you guys are here to spend some time alone.”
“We’ve still got several days ahead of us,” Tony reassured. “Stay tonight so we can make sure you’re okay.” He was about to say something else when he heard an increase in noise from outside.
Jethro’s head was cocked listening carefully. “Ziva’s here, and since she’s not on the list, they’re trying to stop her.”
“Well, that’s going to go down badly,” Tony said getting to his feet. “Not sure who she’s here to talk to, but let’s get it over with.” He headed toward the door, but Jethro put a restraining hand on his arm.
“Let me. She’s got someone with her. Not sure who.” Jethro headed for the door and Tony peered out around the blinds.
He blinked in shock at who was with Ziva, then hastily went to catch his mate. Jethro had just disarmed the alarm and was opening the door. Tony slapped a hand on it, slamming it shut. “Wait! She’s got my father with her.”
– – – –
At the news of Tony’s father’s presence, Jethro’s expression turned stony, and Tony felt the spike in his mate’s anger. “What the fuck is she thinking?”
“Listen to me for a sec… all my father cares about is his reputation and money. If he can’t get it from me one way, he’ll try another, and he’d love nothing more than to sue us back to our ancestors if we lay a hand on him.”
Jethro still looked and felt thunderous.
“Please, Jethro, don’t fall for his manipulations.”
His mate’s expression softened as he reached out and cupped Tony’s jaw. “You have to trust me, Tony.”
“I do. But I also know how much you’d like to shift and accidentally step on him.”
Lips quirking, Jethro replied, “Fair enough. Let me get them in here before Ziva causes an incident in front of the press. You stay put.”
Tony watched his mate head out, then grabbed one of Jethro’s hoodies from the hook by the door and pulled it on, adjusting it to cover his throat scales.
Abby came up behind Tony, pulling him back into the living room.
He focused his attention on her. “You drink your tea?”
“Some. Come sit with me while I finish it.”
He let her manipulate him back to the couch. Ducky was in the armchair looking concerned. “I don’t pretend to understand all the particulars, but I know there’s much strife in both relationships. Know that we are here to support you, so ask of us anything you need.”
Tony nodded gratefully. “Thanks, Ducky. You’ll probably hear some of the garbage with my father… I’ll just apologize in advance.”
Before Ducky could reply the front door opened and Ziva and his father appeared with Jethro bringing up the rear.
Ziva stared at Tony, expression blank, but Tony could feel the emotional storm raging in her.
Jethro moved in front of the two, but focused on Ziva. “Basement. I’ll be down to talk to you once Mr. DiNozzo is gone.”
“She’s my ride,” DiNozzo replied, eyes fixed on Tony. “And why would you assume I’ll be leaving so quickly? My son and I have a lot to talk about.”
“Do I look like I care about your ride? Call a cab or sit in the snow, but you won’t be staying in this house very long.” He turned back to Ziva. “Basement. Now.”
With apparent reluctance, Ziva pulled away and headed for the basement door.
Already annoyed, Tony got to his feet, shaking off Abby’s hand and stepped up next to Jethro.
“Hello, Junior.” Charm and good humor fairly oozed from his father.
Before Jethro could say anything, Tony retorted, “Wow. You’re so confident in your ability to manipulate me that you’d start off by calling me something you know I hate. Not even bothering to try to get on my good side.”
His father started to reply, but Tony spoke right over him. “Let’s just call it straight, shall we? Even if I had been inclined to hear what you had to say, which I wasn’t, that impulse would have died entirely when your involvement with a man who tried to kidnap me came to light.”
DiNozzo Senior had clearly been about to interrupt, but as the last words settled, he snapped his mouth shut and paled slightly.
“You can look shocked and pretend to be innocent, but know that the Council is still investigating, and if they think you were in any way complicit with Sewell, you’ll go to jail, because I sure as hell am not going to intercede on your behalf.”
Senior’s jaw hardened, his gaze turned icy and the false geniality fell from his expression. “I had no knowledge of a planned kidnapping, but you had no right to read my email. You’ll be hearing from my attorneys.”
“We didn’t read your email, we read his. And I turned over the emails you sent me voluntarily. So you can get indignant, and profess your innocence, but it’s not gonna work on me. Not today, not ever. I know you only care about two things; prestige and money, and you’ll get neither here. So you might as well head back to New York.” He was about to turn back to the living room, when he remembered one last bit. “And I’d stay out of the media if I were you.”
“Is that a threat?” His father started to take step forward, but Jethro’s glare stopped the motion.
“No, but if you give another interview that’s anything less than truthful, I’ll feel compelled to set the record straight. And there’s really not much I wouldn’t be willing to reveal at this point. So think carefully before you do something stupid. Well, something else that’s stupid.”
His father looked a little angry, but he felt murderous. “We can sort this out, Tony. I know it’s been a long time-”
“Too long. Almost two decades. And really, anything you needed to say was said when you disowned me, or even when you tried to steal my trust fund. Believe me, I got the message back then. I won’t be a commodity you can trade on in your social circles. And I sure as hell am not giving you any money.”
Senior raised his hands in a surrender gesture, not even bothering with the charming routine any more. “Well, it’s clear that a personal relationship isn’t in the cards, but there are business matters to discuss.”
Tony snorted, morbidly amused, as he stepped back and turned away. “Abby, Ducky, let’s go upstairs. Abby can show us the fruits of her labor. And bring your tea.”
“Junior! You can’t just ignore me!”
But Tony did just that, turning away and a second later his arm was grabbed. The touch was brief as Jethro quickly broke Senior’s hold and pushed him away. Deciding he needed to trust his mate to handle the situation, and feeling his presence would just escalate things, he gestured for Abby and Ducky to precede him up the stairs. He heard Jethro speaking in low angry tones, and his father’s more strident response. Upstairs, they went to the master bedroom and Tony flopped on the bed.
He scrubbed his hands over his face. “Sorry you both had to witness that.”
Abby sat next to him, slinging an arm around his shoulders. “You don’t have anything to apologize for, Tony. He had a lot of nerve coming here like this.”
“I agree with Abigail. I’m not familiar with the particulars, but from what you said, it does seem to be in rather poor taste for him to show up in such a manner.”
Bouncing a little in agitation, Abby added, “I just can’t figure out what Ziva was thinking!”
“Doesn’t matter, Abbs. Finish your tea.” Tony did not want to talk about the situation, so he’d redirect to any subject he could find.
Thankfully, Ducky and Abby didn’t press the issue and Abby showed him the details of her organizing while sipping her tea with seeming reluctance. She was looking a little perkier already, though she didn’t seem to care for the taste of the beverage.
The sound of the front door closing got Tony headed toward the stairs. “I’m going down to talk to Ziva. LJ made it clear a while ago that he’d not let me talk to her alone, so now’s my chance. I guess we’ll both be in the basement. Make yourselves at home.” He headed out of the room before anyone could really formulate a reply, and jogged down the stairs.
Jethro was waiting for him. “I heard you, so decided to wait,” he replied in response to Tony’s inquiring look. “Tell me what you got off her when she arrived.”
“Conflicted. Angry. Smug. Anxious. I doubt she even knows what she’s hoping to accomplish with this stunt, though I don’t doubt that she really does want to talk to you.”
Nodding, Jethro steered Tony towards the basement. “I don’t care how subtly you do it, but you keep me between the two of you.” At Tony’s frown, Jethro insisted. “I mean it, Tony. I don’t know what’s going on with her, and right now I don’t trust her. Not with you. I’m afraid she’ll lash out.”
Tony winced, remembering just how Ziva liked to lash out.
Halting their forward momentum, Jethro frowned, head cocked to the side. “She already has, hasn’t she?”
“Let’s talk about it later, LJ.”
“Let’s talk about it now, Tony. We’re not going downstairs until you explain.” At Tony’s hesitation, Jethro said, “Now.”
There was a tone in his voice that spoke to Tony’s dragon, which made him want to expose his throat. He wasn’t thrilled with feeling ordered, but rather than fight Jethro and his own dragon, he decided to just answer. “Remember after Israel, how I was in the sling for longer than expected?”
Frowning, Jethro nodded, gesturing for Tony to continue.
“She was upset and making a point that I could have shot Michael non-fatally. And in the process she gave me a hairline fracture in my shoulder blade which was a bitch to heal, and really painful unless I stayed in the sling.”
Jethro swore and turned away, rubbing a hand over his face. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Since when has it ever been my style to tattle on my teammates?” Tony retorted, annoyed.
Spinning back around, Jethro glared at him, but Tony just raised a brow. “This isn’t like an office prank, Tony, she caused you injury. That’s the kind of thing I always needed to know about. Especially before I decided to let her back on the team.”
“Let’s not do this now, okay? I just want to get this over with.”
Jethro hesitated for a few beats before nodding. “It’s delayed, not over with. Got it?”
“Are we having a fight?” Tony inquired wryly.
Jethro’s lips twitched. “Come on.” They headed for the basement, Jethro leading the way.
Ziva was sitting on a sawhorse, and Tony could feel when she registered his presence along with Jethro’s. “I thought we could talk alone, Gibbs,” she said, seemingly ignoring Tony.
“And yet, no,” Tony replied as Jethro leaned against a wall, midway between Tony and Ziva. LJ wasn’t physically between them, but Ziva would have to cross his path to get to Tony. “Why are you here, Ziva?”
She scowled. “I don’t answer to you.”
“I live here, so I kinda think you do answer to me when I ask why you’re at my house.” After a long silence, Tony smiled sadly. “Fine. Then I’ll talk. Gibbs and I are forever, and nothing you can say or do is going to change that. You have to know that, so I don’t know what you hope to accomplish with your attempts to deliberately upset me. When I read your email, I was still determined to talk this out with you, to try to fix it, but I think my perspective has changed.
“Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to; it’s not my job to fix you.” When she started to reply hotly, he felt any patience evaporate and made a slashing motion with his hand. “No! You didn’t want to talk, so shut the fuck up and listen.”
He barely paused to register her shock. Ziva and his father in the same day was just too much for him and he was done playing nice. “I made a mistake in coming to your house without backup out of clearly misguided loyalty to you. But there’s no guarantee that me following procedure and coming with backup to arrest your disloyal ass would have resulted in any different outcome. He was drunk, he was combative and he wasn’t going to come quietly. And if he attacked any agent, he’d have been shot immediately, and we don’t aim to wound, despite your demonstration in Israel. You know better.”
Ziva looked like she’d been gutted but Tony’s empathy nearly vibrated under the feel of her anger.
Not giving her any opening to reply, he quickly continued. “And what I know is that you could have prevented that whole situation by coming clean at any time. It sucks that your lover died through a situation of his and your making. But what I have a hard time with is, after everything, you’d clearly rather that your out of control boyfriend had killed me. You’d rather that I end up on Ducky’s table, and your boyfriend be allowed to continue on his bloody rampage. Why don’t you consider what Gibbs would have done to you if your games and lies had resulted in my death?”
He hesitated only the briefest second, before plowing on. “But I guess that’s speculation. Let me tell you what isn’t. You should have emerged by now. Despite what you may believe, you should be a Beta. But dragons are protectors, especially female dragons, and you aren’t. Think about what you’ve become, Ziva. And think about what really matters to you, because the road you’re on right now leads to nothing good, and it’s a path where no dragon can exist. You can be angry and vengeful and lose everyone, everything, and smother the dragon in you right out of existence. Or you can get your act together and have a fucking life. Either way, I’m done taking your shit.”
Ignoring how pale she looked, and how desolate she now felt, because he didn’t want to get sucked into feeling sorry for her, Tony added, “Say what you need to say to Gibbs, then get out of my home. You won’t be on the list, so don’t come back without an invite.” He spun on his heel and headed upstairs, blowing right past Abby and Ducky in the living room, with a muttered comment about needing time alone. He went straight for his new bedroom and closed the door.
Gibbs wanted to follow Tony, but he also needed to deal with Ziva. And he sensed that Tony really did need some time alone. He felt a lot of simmering anger from his mate, but he was proud of how Tony had refused to get pulled into arguments with either Ziva or his father.
Ziva was leaning against a sawhorse looking pale and shaken. Her eyes met Gibbs’. “How could he possibly know that?”
“The how really isn’t any of your business, Ziva. You’ve lost the right to ask that question.”
“Is he right?” she queried hesitantly.
“He’d know.” When she didn’t seem inclined to say anything, he asked, “What did you hope to accomplish with this stunt?”
“It wasn’t a stunt. His father has been trying to get in touch with him. He’s a charming man who just wants to reconnect with his son, and I told him I’d assist him when Tony was back in town. I thought I was doing Tony a favor.” Both her tone and body language were stiff.
“That’s a lie. I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt and think that you’re lying to yourself too, but I know you did a thorough background on Tony before you started on the team. There’s no way you thought you were doing him a favor.”
Ziva flushed and looked away.
“Did you think I’d appreciate you trying to hurt my mate?” When she refused to meet his eyes, he pressed, “I’m only asking one last time, what did you hope to accomplish with this?”
“I do not know!” she blurted out. “Everything has worked out for Tony, and my life is a mess. I am angry, and frustrated, and losing everything, and I just want him to feel what I’m feeling!”
“And why should he? He hasn’t done anything. He’s shown incredible loyalty to you. He risked his life to save you, and you repay that by trying to fuck with him?” He rubbed his hand over his head, praying for control. “I’m a newly mated Alpha, with an emotionally vulnerable Omega. Did you think through it far enough to figure out how I’d respond to you deliberately trying to cause him harm?”
The previous flush abruptly drained from her face and she stared at her hands.
“I’ll take that as a no.” He wanted to give her a lecture she’d never forget, but pushed the urge down, he wasn’t her father and right now he wasn’t her boss. “Because of our history, rather than throwing you out now, I’m going to offer you some advice. Get your head screwed on straight, Ziva. Vance’ll get you all the counseling you need. And if you’re actually trying to fix this mess, I’ll try to help, but Tony is not your whipping boy. Not anymore. I regret not noticing sooner that you were using him to exorcise your personal demons.”
He started to turn away, but her voice stopped him. “Gibbs, please. You are all I have.”
“Shouldn’t you have considered that before you came here on the offensive?” He took a breath. “Tell me what happened between you and Tony in Israel.” She looked blank, so he elaborated. “Why did he come back with a fractured shoulder blade?”
She looked aghast. “I never realized I hurt him. I was just…”
“You were just what?” he demanded.
“I just wanted him to see he had options other than shooting to kill!”
“Really? When he was fighting for his life with a broken arm against a crazed Kidon assassin, who had already killed federal agent? In that situation you wanted him to try a non-fatal precision shot? I’d have kicked his ass six ways from Sunday if he’d even thought about it.” Ziva’s eyes welled up and Gibbs turned away, refusing to allow pity to dictate his actions. “I want to hear what actually happened.”
Reluctantly, Ziva described confronting Tony outside Mossad, putting him down hard and pointing her gun at him.
“You did that to him while he was injured? And after he had shown so much loyalty to you?” Gibbs fought down his anger. “I can’t fix this, only you can.” He gestured to the stairs. “You need to leave, Ziva.”
Looking heartbroken, she moved across the basement, stopping briefly in front of him. “I am sorry, Gibbs.”
It was deja vu. “And yet again, I’m not the person who needs to hear that, but if you can’t say it honestly this time, don’t bother.” As she headed up the stairs, he felt compelled to add, “There will never come a time when I don’t choose him. And in case you’re wondering about what Tony said, if your omissions and lies around Rivkin had resulted in Tony’s death, I’d have killed you.”
Without looking back, she nodded and left.
Gibbs took a few moments to get himself back on an even keel. Part of him wanted to try to fix this cluster fuck with Ziva, but it was a mess of her own making; and the only way she seemed to be able to fix anything these days was at Tony’s expense, and that was not an option. He hoped she’d get her shit together, and would never have to find out how many enemies she’d make in the dragon community if she continued down this path.
This certainly wasn’t how they’d thought to spend their first day at home together. Everything was chaos again, which was not what was supposed to be happening. He took a deep breath, then headed upstairs. First he’d have to deal with Abby and Ducky, then he’d search out his mate, who now felt flat through the bond.
Upstairs, he found Abby and Ducky getting ready to leave. “What’s going on?”
Abby came over and gave him a hug, which he willingly returned. “I’m going to stay with Ducky tonight. I’d love to be here, and I really appreciate the offer, but you and Tony really need that time alone. Now more than ever.”
Gibbs didn’t argue with her, because in fact, he’d been regretting his insistence that she stay. Not because he didn’t want to make sure she was all right, but he couldn’t do it at Tony’s expense. Not right now.
“Come tomorrow. Tony had mentioned before any of this went down that he was going to invite you two for breakfast anyway.”
Ducky nodded, taking Abby by the arm. “I think Sunday brunch is just the ticket, Jethro. We’ll be here around ten. Come show us out.”
It was a little surreal that he had to show people out now in order to deal with the security system. Someday soon, he’d get an access code for them, but this wasn’t the time for it.
As soon as the house was locked up again, he took the stairs two at a time, finding Tony sitting on the bed, looking morosely at his hands, he’d shed the hoodie, his throat scales visible again. “I’m sorry, LJ. I didn’t even try to fix it. I just lost it with her. I was just so pissed that she’d bring my father here.”
Gibbs hunkered down in front of his mate, taking Tony’s hands in his own. “Hey… you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not your job to fix everything. And there was nothing you said that she didn’t need to hear.”
“I didn’t have to throw that dragon stuff in her face.”
“I think maybe you did. She needed something to break down her self-righteous indignation and get her thinking. And Ziva wants nothing so much as to be a dragon. Speaking of, how’d you know she should be a Beta?”
“Oh, um, she feels like Garcia and JD did, but kind of fractured in some way. The only way I could interpret it is that she should have already emerged, but she’s making choices and changing in ways that aren’t compatible with a Drake’s nature. For all I know, she’s been like this for a long time.”
Gibbs nodded, then got to his feet and maneuvered Tony back on the bed, pulling off both their shoes, then lay down next to his mate, pulling him close.
“Don’t we need to get back downstairs?” Tony asked softly.
“Everyone’s gone. There’s nothing that needs to be done.”
“Is Abby coming back later?”
“They’ll both be back at ten tomorrow morning.”
Tony pulled away, leaning up on his elbow and met Gibbs’ stare. “We’re supposed to be looking after Abby tonight.”
“Ducky can look after Abby. We don’t have to solve every problem, Tony. Ducky’s a member of our Wing, and he can handle this. Just like he handled looking after you.”
Tony’s lips quirked up faintly and he surrendered to Gibbs’ hold again. “I hate to ask, but what happened?”
“With your father or with Ziva?”
“Both, I guess.”
“Ziva I told to get some help. If she has something productive to say, she can call, but she’s not welcome here right now.”
He started to run his fingers through Tony’s hair. “As for your father, I let him know that he was on the radar of the Council of Dragons because of his involvement with Sewell, and that they had the power to have every US alphabet agency crawl through every aspect of his life. And that he might want to consider that before he called, wrote or even thought about you again.” He’d also issued some pretty clear warnings about the repercussions of laying hands on an Omega, and advised that Senior had better never touch Tony again.
He felt a bit of amusement from Tony. “Did you threaten to step on him?”
“No, but I want you to know what a sacrifice that was,” he teased gently.
Tony actually chuckled. “I’ll reward you later for such Herculean restraint.”
Getting back to a more serious topic, he offered, “I was impressed that you didn’t get into it with either of them.”
“Really? It felt sort of obnoxious.”
“No. The only reason to go through it is if you had something to gain from it.”
“What do you mean?”
“If it was going to help you feel better, or resolve the situation in a way that made you happier.”
“Ah. No, I think all I’d have gotten for drawing it out was aggravation and a wasted afternoon.” He played with Gibbs’ shirt for a few seconds. “I have a question for you… why did you only want humans on your team?”
Not reacting to the apparent non-sequitur, and continuing to stroke Tony’s head, letting his fingers drift to the top of the spine scales, he replied, “Because dragons will always come first for any dragon, and I wanted my team to continue to function in the event my priorities were split. Imagine if Rick and Cassie had been on my team instead of Ziva and Tim? Everything would have ground to a halt.”
“It sorta did anyway.”
“For entirely different reasons. To my way of thinking, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to have an all-dragon team, but I’ve seen evidence recently that it’s not as bad as I’d feared it could be.”
“Yeah, Larabee’s whole team got sidelined, and the ATF didn’t stop functioning, but I can see that it’s a bigger headache for the powers that be when an entire team goes down rather than just one member.” He was absently stroking Gibbs’ chest, his mind clearly spinning on something. “If we ever went back to NCIS, would you still insist on all humans?”
“No. I don’t know what mix I’d want, but there’d be more dragons on the team.”
Tony completely stilled and stiffened a little. “Because of me?”
“Yes.” As he felt Tony’s objection building, he rolled them so he was looming over his mate. “I don’t want to fight with you every time security comes up. I need you to bend on this, Tony. If you tell me to lighten up on security constantly, when it’s a reasonable request, I’m not even going to hear you.”
Tony looked away for a few seconds before meeting Gibbs’ eyes again. “I hear you, Jethro. It just feels like no one trusts my judgment.”
“And whose judgment are you trusting? I’ll give you that you’re coming into this better trained than most Wyverns, but that doesn’t really help much if you’re by yourself against a team of men with assault rifles. I need you to understand that the danger is real, it’s not just something that’s possible.”
Reluctantly, Tony nodded. “This isn’t going to let up, is it?”
“I doubt it. Not for a long while. Considering what the three of you are, I think it’ll be a long time before any of the Alphas in the know are going to relax their vigilance. If you can accept this baseline of heightened security, then we can negotiate more extreme measures as they come up, okay?”
Tony considered for a long time, before relenting. “All right. I’ll try to be mellow about it, but you have to keep it reasonable.” He flashed his mate a playful smile. “If we wind up with police escorts and a procession everywhere we go, I’m gonna dig my heels in again.”
Gibbs leaned down and gave him a quick kiss. “Deal.”
“To go back before the security tangent, I get why you wanted a human team… would you have really kicked us off for emerging?”
Gibbs blew out a breath, thinking for a moment, then lay back on the bed again, pulling Tony tight to his side. “I don’t know. Not you for sure. When Rick first called me in Florida, for a brief moment, I thought you were a Beta, and I was relieved because I was going to come back and get you into bed so fast your head would spin.
“And I would have kept you as my SFA. But usually mated Drakes don’t serve on the same team, like Cassie and Rick, so Vance might have made you transfer. But you were due your own team a long time ago, Tony. Keeping you as my SFA was purely for selfish reasons.”
He easily felt Tony’s pleasure at his words, and smiled a bit before continuing. “As for Ziva or McGee… if either had been Alphas, they’d have had to transfer for sure. I know Larabee and Hotch make it work with multiple Alphas on a team, but our team is too small.”
Tony snorted. “McGee, an Alpha?”
“Well, there is that. After so many years, if he’d emerged a Beta, I’d have probably let it go. Not sure about Ziva.”
“Why the questions?”
“I just wondered. After the last few weeks, it seems dragons are kind of drawn to working together, so it made me wonder why you seemed to have an aversion to having them on your team. But I get it now. That and…” he trailed off, and seemed uncertain about how to phrase the rest.
“Go ahead, Tony.”
“I’m sure you heard the rumors about why I was your SFA, and it’s crossed my mind to wonder if there was any truth to it, but,” he shook his head, “I know better.”
He stroked Tony’s cheek. “You earned your spot, it’s as simple as that.”
Tony hid his face in Gibbs’ chest, and Gibbs could feel his mate’s happiness at the acknowledgment. After a few moments, Tony relaxed his head again. “You up for more Q&A?”
“I’ll answer any questions you like. I may have a question or two myself.”
“Quid pro quo, huh? Okay, my big bad Alpha, shoot.”
Gibbs chuckled. “Okay, here’s an easy one. Regrets?”
Tony’s brows shot up, and with the uncanny ability he’d always had with Gibbs, he seemed to know what was meant. “I assume you mean regrets about being a dragon? Not a one. I could do without the entourage, but it’s irrelevant compared to finally having you. My turn. Do you have an assistant?”
Gibbs was surprised by the question, but mostly stuck in feeling pleasure at Tony’s assertion of no regrets. He managed to stay with the conversation and reply, “Sort of. The Council would have preferred that I have someone close at hand to work with me on a day to day basis, keeping things on the east coast on an even keel, but-”
“But there’s no way you’d have been able to work with someone in your face all the time,” Tony interjected, glancing up at Gibbs with a smile.
“Exactly. The Council assigned someone out of the West Virginia Center to take the administrative stuff. She coordinates anything that has to be done, makes sure that the reports from my Alpha Primes all get in on time, sends me highlights, deals with Council bureaucracy for me.”
“And what’s this paragon of patience’s name?”
Amused, Gibbs replied, “Her name is Susan Carmody. She’s a Beta, married to a Beta, both work at the center.”
Tony looked thoughtful. “And am I going to be taking over working with Saint Susan?”
Gibbs blinked. “Ah, I hadn’t thought about it. I guess we’ll need to talk to Blair and Jim and see how they handle this stuff. Though I wouldn’t mind at all if you wanted to take on that side of our work.”
Tony snorted. “How surprising. Okay, your turn.”
He stared at Tony for several seconds. He had questions he wanted answers to, but he wasn’t sure this was the time. “First time you thought about leaving NCIS?”
Tony bit his lip and Gibbs could feel a spike of anxiety. “I dunno, LJ, there were like a dozen times the first month.”
He tipped Tony’s chin up and stared at him for several beats. “That was a prevarication, Tony. The first time you seriously considered it.”
Tony huffed out a breath. “Jeffery White.”
Nodding thoughtfully, Gibbs prompted, “Why?”
Taking a deep breath, Tony eventually said, “Because that case was hard for me, really hard, and I needed you afterward.”
Gibbs closed his eyes, and began stroking Tony’s head again, mostly to soothe himself. “And I was pretty unavailable.” Gibbs knew why… he remembered very well. After days of worrying that he was going to lose Tony, he’d had to throw up walls to keep from dragging Tony into a hug and never letting go.
“It doesn’t matter now, Jethro.”
“I’m wondering if it does, Tony. I’m sure there were many times, but tell me when you were the most serious about it.”
He felt Tony’s reluctance, but his mate eventually replied, “Domino, I guess.”
Gibbs wasn’t surprised by that. Even at the time, he felt he’d made some serious errors in how he’d handled Tony. “Was it all me?”
Tony’s brow furrowed. “No. I wasn’t happy with you for sure, but Ziva played a part, too. And Vance. It was coming from too many sides at that time, but you certainly didn’t help.”
“At the time, I know you thought I didn’t trust you, but–”
“Jethro, you don’t have to explain,” Tony interjected.
“I think I kinda do. So many times when you needed me, I was keeping my distance in order to not give in to my attraction for you. And the times when you think I didn’t trust you, like Domino, I was trying to protect you. I’ve always been edgy about placing you in danger, but I couldn’t make sense of my unease, so I had to push it aside and let you step out on a ledge time and time again. It was never easy, but Domino was different.”
He tipped Tony’s head back so their eyes met. “The original plan was to have you in on it, because you’re good undercover and I have confidence in you, but every time I thought about telling you about Lee, my gut went off like a siren. I just couldn’t take the chance… she was too willing to kill anyone in her way.”
Tony’s expression softened. “Okay.” He looked contemplative for a moment. “With what we know now, I can only surmise that something would have gone awry if I’d been in the loop.” He rested his head back on Gibbs’ shoulder. “Oddly enough, now that we know more about your gift, it’s easier to accept that sometimes you were following instinct.”
Gibbs thought about that for a moment. “Not really instinct. My instinct is to always keep you out of danger, but I had no rational reason to give into those instincts unless my gut got involved.”
“Hmm. Did you ever not listen to your gut?”
“A few times. And every time something happened to you, so I eventually stopped ignoring it. The first notable time I ignored my gut, you wound up kidnapped and locked in a sewer with a corpse and a near-corpse. I know I pissed you off a few times with my decisions, but I really believed that you were in danger every time.”
He tugged gently at Tony’s soft short hair. “You’re probably letting me off the hook too easily. I know I caused you a lot of hurt, Tony. If I could change it, I would.”
The arm around his waist tightened in a reassuring squeeze. “I know, Jethro. To some degree, all the Drake/Wyvern pairs I’ve talked to have been through something similar. The wanting one another and causing hurt because it seemed hopeless. I think that’s part of why I feel so driven to do whatever we can to fix this situation.”
Gibbs thought about that for a moment, then smiled faintly. “Guardians, huh?”
– – – –